For some, the thought of paying to be carted around in a van to gawk at places where famous people took their last breath is a morbid one. For Scott Michaels, creator of the Dearly Departed Tour in Hollywood, Calif., it’s all in a day’s work. Michaels’ historical tour of infamous locations in the Los Angeles area has been a successful one. His tinsel town tours attract people from all over the country and the world. On any given day, Michaels leads a caravan of morbidly curious tourists, from as far away as the UK and the East Coast, on a 37-mile leg of old Hollywood.
Michaels is regularly consulted by E!Entertainment as a reliable source for what is and isn't happening in Hollywood.
“It’s my way of preserving history,” says Michaels. “People repeat what they learn from me and that means it won’t be forgotten.”
While Michaels’ business may seem bizarre to most, his operation is a perfect example of how operators can find unique niches in their markets for limousine and bus tours. Finding out more about the history of your area may present an opportunity to begin a tour using vehicles in your fleet.
The “Tragical” History Tour
It’s fair to say that Michaels can be understood as an archaeologist of sorts, although not in the traditional sense of the word. He deals mainly in digging up the kind of history you won’t find in textbooks. On the standard tour, the Dearly Departed van makes stops at the location of one of the many Charles Manson murders, the place where Bugsy Siegel was killed, and the house where the Menendez brothers murdered their parents, among many other gloomily noteworthy spots.
“I think death needs to be acknowledged,” says Michaels. “It’s one of those great mysteries.” Although it plays a big part of the tour, death isn’t the only criteria for a pit stop. The van also stops at several classically old Hollywood locations, such as Chasen’s restaurant, now a gourmet supermarket, where the famous Shirley Temple drink was invented, the beauty salon where Marilyn Monroe went blonde for the first time, and Boardner’s Nightclub, the place where Bela Lugosi and Ed Wood first met one another. His off-the-beaten-path knowledge is a priceless addition to the unique experience of being on the tour. While sitting in the van with a perfect view of the Hollywood sign, Michaels tells his patrons all about the history of the structure and which stars paid to replace which letter in the late ‘70s. Michaels attempts to connect the pieces of the mysterious and constantly-evolving Hollywood puzzle.
“Anyone can do this,” says Michaels. “There’s really no secret. You just have to have an interest and enthusiasm for it.” He simply turned his hobby of reading biographies and obituaries and watching documentaries into a career. There is a very elementary reason why people are attracted to his tour – Michaels is really good at what he does. “The hardest part of what I do is trying to entertain a van full of people while navigating through LA traffic without sounding distracted.” From the passenger seat, Michaels makes all of this look very easy.
Michaels hopes to expand the tour in the future. He sees himself getting another bus and hiring more people to get in on the fun. For now, he’s content with what he’s doing and says that he’s happy just knowing he is a respected source of information in his community and industry. He doesn’t see Dearly Departed’s time running out very soon. He believes that the market for curiosity will never dry up in a place like Hollywood. “You know, Hollywood is a wonderfully phony place — that’s the magic,” he says. “It makes you realize the people here are not all that nice.”