ACCORDING to the 2020 census, nearly 680,000 people with a Scottish or Ulster-Scots background call southern California home and in Los Angeles that connection is famously with a pub that looks like an ancient castle combined with a witch’s house.

The Tam O’Shanter in Los Feliz, a hip area just a few miles east of Hollywood, has a long relationship with the St Andrew’s Society of Los Angeles, explains current president Kimberlee Bradford.

“We’ve held events at and supported the Tam since the beginning of the society in 1929-1930, and I first went there as a child in the late 1960s,” she said.

Built a century ago by Van de Kamp Bakeries on what was then a dirt road, an early renovation saw it taking inspiration from Robert Burns’s Tam O’Shanter, when it was re-designed to give it a Scottish theme – flags, kilts, bagpipes, portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie and all – in hopes that Tam’s tale of outsmarting a coven of witches would bring diners to their doors.

“The pub’s authentic tartans were donated by the foundation’s founders, including Alexander Cowie and James Loudon,” Bradford said, adding that one of their regulars had some Ulster-Scots background, and, though he died in 1966, is still perhaps the most famous name in entertainment: Walt Disney.

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Disney started going to the pub during the creation of his theme park and there is a Walt Disney Table in the main dining room that you nearly always need a reservation for, though he usually sat in the bar.

Other staff – and celebrities – working at the then-nearby Disney and Fox studios came in too, including Fatty Arbuckle, Tom Mix, Mary Pickford and a young John Wayne, but it was Disney and his colleagues who took on the Tam as their own hangout, jokingly calling it their “studio commissary”.

The Tam has signed artwork from Disney animators on its walls and that main dining room looks very similar to Toad Hall at Disneyland. The Tam itself looks like the seven dwarfs’ house from Snow White, while Craigievar Castle in Aberdeenshire apparently caught Disney’s eye too. Either way, it is true that the VIP guides at Disneyland do have tartan on their costumes.

Bradford explained that the LA St Andrew’s Society hosts a variety of events throughout the year and supports groups such as the Associated Judges and Teachers of Highland Dancing, the restoration of the Burns Cottage in Alloway, Enable Scotland and the National Libraries and Galleries of Scotland.

The National: Los Angeles

They also give out prizes at the annual Highland Games, including the weekend-long Scottish Fest event in Costa Mesa, which is organised by the United Scottish Society.

There are two other Highland Games close to LA too – the Queen Mary Scots Festival in Long Beach, which takes place in February, and the Seaside Highland Games in Ventura in October.

“But our crown jewel is the Burns Supper, which has been going on for 95 years, longer than anywhere else in southern California,” Bradford says. “It’s held at a hotel in Beverly Hills on January 25 and was proclaimed as the best Burns Supper in America!”

Every year someone is honoured with the Robert Burns award for their talent and contributions to Scotland. In 2024 it was Nobel Prize winner Sir Angus Deaton and last year it went to Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander books.

The City of Angels Pipe Band performs at the event alongside various Scottish actors and singers, and there are 25 whiskies to sample. “And of course there is haggis, which is flown in especially from Scotland, and prepared by a Michelin star chef at the hotel,” Bradford said.

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To celebrate Tartan Day in April, the society organises the only film festival in the world to highlight Scottish talent. The premiere screening this year was Sleeping Dogs starring Russell Crowe, Inverness-born Karen Gillan and Tommy Flanagan from Easterhouse in Glasgow.

“There is also a California state tartan, which was introduced in 1998,” Bradford said.“It has crisscrossed and vertical bands, and was inspired by the Muir family tartan.”

The tartan’s blue reflects the sky, the Pacific Ocean and the rivers, while the green reflects the sierras, fields, forests, mountains and parks. The red, gold and blue signify the arts, sciences and industry of the people of the state of California.

The society is involved in the promotion of Scottish and UK business and innovation too, but unsurprisingly the membership skews heavily towards the movie and television business.

“Some 30% of our membership aren’t even Scottish,” Bradford says. “They just love all things Scottish and enjoy the camaraderie.”

San Francisco saw its own society formed in the wake of the 1850s Gold Rush, though it was outside the big cities where Dunbar’s John Muir (below) arguably had the greatest effect on the state of California.

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Known as the “Father of the National Parks,” the noted naturalist, author and environmental advocate’s work helped to preserve the Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Park.

Alongside Loudon and Cowie, the other Scottish-born founder of the LA society was director Frank Lloyd, the first Scot to win an Oscar. He was also one of the original founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and won perhaps the ultimate local award – a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The first Oscars ceremony took place at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood in 1929 and it is probably no coincidence that the first St Andrew’s Society annual dinner was held there the following year.

Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Charlie Chaplin, friends of Lloyd, attended the first Burns Dinner too, and the Scottish connection to Hollywood has always been a strong one.

Working in Edinburgh, Alexander Graham Bell could never have imagined that his telephone would become the future apex of internet streaming, nor would John Logie Baird, born in Helensburgh, have guessed his television system would dominate the world.

More recently, the links to the big and small screens are as strong as ever. Sean Connery was for many the ultimate James Bond, and Kelly Macdonald, Shirley Henderson, David Tennant, Ewan McGregor and James McAvoy keep the flag flying.

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Edinburgh native Arthur Conan Doyle created the fictional character that has been adapted most often for films and television – Sherlock Holmes – though perhaps the most famous film icon, Marilyn Monroe, has often been portrayed by Glasgow actress Erin Gavin.

“I came to LA 14 years ago to audition for one of the Saw horror movies,” she said, “but I didn’t get my visa in time. I decided to stay anyway, and give Hollywood a shot!”

She met other Scottish people at Bafta, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts charity that promotes and supports the entertainment industry, and there was introduced to the St Andrew’s Society.

“They were all supportive but after a while I was on the brink of giving up on Hollywood. Then, out of nowhere, I received a last-minute casting offer to portray Monroe in the play Marilyn My Secret.

“Then I was hit by a drunk driver and missed the audition but I was so determined that I reached out to the director, and they requested a tape of me singing Happy Birthday Mr President.

“The play was a smashing success, running for an incredible three years.”

Gavin then performed in Marilyn & Sinatra, which premiered off Broadway and brought her home to the Edinburgh Festival, and then on to London’s West End.

‘Beyond the stage, I continued to embody Marilyn in documentaries, short films, and even launched a clothing line and secured a record deal,” Gavin said. “I also found love during that first show, falling for the actor portraying Bobby Kennedy.”

Working behind the scenes as a set dresser is Edinburgh’s David Aikman, who “bumps into a lot of Scots”. He said: “Billy Connolly’s son is a very good prop master, while Gerard Butler and Rod Stewart are top guys and quite accessible.”

Aikman celebrates Burns Night every year and will also go to his nearby pub to watch the Scottish Cup Final, rugby, the Euros, and anything else where Scotland are playing. He also attends the ScotsFest in Long Beach, pointing out that the RMS Queen Mary, now docked there as a floating hotel, was built on the Clyde.

Aikman then talks about the new generation, his young son. “He attends Melrose Elementary School on Melrose Boulevard. That was a nice circle moment,” he says,

“I do miss my family though. Scotland is, of course home, but a very chilly one.

“And I am careful to refer to LA as home, as my son has bright red Celtic hair and is American, so I want him to feel secure in that.”