Archive for May, 2010

Dennis Hopper Obituary

Saturday, May 29th, 2010


Dennis Hopper dies at 74; actor directed counterculture classic ‘Easy Rider’




Hopper made his acting debut in ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ in 1955. He later descended into years of drug and alcohol abuse, but made a comeback in 1986 with his Oscar-nominated role in ‘Hoosiers.’


Dennis McLellan
Los Angeles Times
May 29, 2010


Dennis Hopper, the maverick director and costar of the landmark 1969 counterculture film classic “Easy Rider” whose drug- and alcohol-fueled reputation as a Hollywood bad boy preceded his return to sobriety and a career resurgence in the films ” Hoosiers” and “Blue Velvet,” died Saturday. He was 74.


Click here to continue reading the Los Angeles Times obituary for Dennis Hopper



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Historic fires at Universal Studios

Saturday, May 29th, 2010


After fire, Universal Studios reopens backlot





Producer Steven Spielberg center, crosses a street with a building facade after a dedication ceremony for Universal Studios newly rebult New York Street backlot locations, at the studio in Universal City, Calif., Thursday, May 27, 2010. A fixture in Hollywood for decades, New York Street, which consists of 13 city blocks of buildings has been the setting of commercials, television shows and feature films. The shooting location burned in an accidental fire on June 1, 2008. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon) (Reed Saxon, AP / May 27, 2010)


Beginning yesterday, visitors to Universal Studios Hollywood can see the new New York Street backlot, which replaces the famous location ruined in a fire two years ago.


A fixture in Hollywood for decades, the backlot is primarily designed to let filmmakers shoot New York, London, Paris and other places without actually having to leave Los Angeles. Visitors can catch a view of the newly rebuilt four acres on Universal’s behind-the-scenes studio tours by tram.


The Universal Studios back lot fire two years ago recalls blazes that have occured there since the studio moved to that location in 1915. All the major studios have had fires at one time or another but Universal seems to have had more than their fair share. What follows is a brief history of fires at Universal over the years.



Historic fires at Universal Studios





by Allan R. Ellenberger  


March 25, 1913


Before Universal moved to their present location, their studio was at Gower Street and Sunset Boulevard. Very early in the morning, the studio was totally destroyed by a fire that began in the film storehouse and was believed to have been caused by spontaneous combustion.


Several outdoor stages, dressing rooms, outbuildings, offices, scenery storeroom and other buildings, all made of wood, were burned to the ground. For a time the Hollywood branch office of the Sunset Telephone Company and near-by residences were threatened.



September 29, 1917


A fire started from an unknown origin in the dry grass and spread to a two-story building on one of the western streets just a short distance from the wardrobe building. Members of the Universal fire department and most every able bodied man fought to extinguish the flames. Sparks from the burning buildings were carried to one of the stages and set fire to a number of the overhead diffusers. Actors helped to put them out.


Sparks also fell on the roof of the new electric light studio, which was constructed only a few weeks earlier, but a group of men quickly put it out. For a while, it was feared that the $4,000,000 studio would be seriously damaged, however, the loss was estimated at $10,000.


Not to waste the opportunity, several cameramen trained their cameras upon the fire scenes which would be placed in stock for use in future films.



June 3, 1919


A stubborn fire aided by a strong wind blowing into the San Fernando Valley was intent to destroy everything on the Universal back lot (back ranch). However, being in an unincorporated district, the nearby Hollywood fire station declared Universal City to be beyond its jurisdiction. Actor Harry Carey, who was filming scenes for Rider of the Law (1919) gathered several of his fellow cowboy actors to help fight the fire. They hauled a hose from the studio to the crest of one of the hills where there was a huge water tank and sprayed the hillsides from there. The blaze destroyed sets and equipment on three of the hills and damage was set at $5,000 and might have amounted to more had not Carey and the other men acted so quickly.





May 25, 1922


A short-circuited electric wire, which whipped through an open doorway of a cutting room, ignited more than 100,000 feet of film. The huge coils of film flared up instantly with flames sweeping through the room, endangering near-by buildings. Padlocked metal boxes of film exploded with the heat, showering the vicinity with steel splinters that embedded themselves in the walls.


The explosion, smoke and fire that followed caused a near-panic among the hundreds of studio employees. Actress Priscilla Dean rushed up a flight of stairs to the burning room, intent on saving the film of her picture, Under Two Flags, (1922) which was just being completed. She tripped on a flowing oriental robe (part of her costume) she was wearing and sprained her ankle.


At a loss of four cents a foot, more than 185,000 feet of film was destroyed including Under Two Flags and the footage for five other productions.


Tod Browning, who directed Under Two Flags, was about to leave for his home when the fire started. Irving Thalberg, director-general of the studio; Julius Bernhein, Leo McCarey and Arthur Ripley (film editor), all made an effort to reach the cutting room but were forced back by the flames.


Thalberg estimated that the property damage from the fire and the loss of film would come to more than a half-million dollars.



December 23, 1922


Just seven months later another fire ravaged the studio under similar circumstances when an electric lamp short circuited and ignited more than a million feet of film. An explosion shook the building, knocking down a woman standing fifty feet from the source. Fortunately the fire was prevented from spreading to the adjoining scenic shop where large amounts of paint, chemicals and inflammable materials were stored.


The fire broke out at 3:50 pm, and was battled by fire-fighting apparatus on the premises. Special effects man, Edward Bush and actor Norman Kerry, who was still dressed in his Austrian costume from Merry-Go-Round (1923), rushed into the building ahead of the fireman. However, both were overcome by fumes from the burning film and were carried out unconscious. They were attended to at the Universal City Emergency Hospital. Actors Herbert Rawlinson and Art Acord were among those who also aided in fighting the flames.


The studio was not seriously damaged but a total of 1,100,000 feet of film was destroyed. This included footage for between thirty-five and forty films which was being edited including One of Three (1923) from the Yorke Norroy film series starring Roy Stewart. It was estimated to cost approximately $250,000 to reshoot the pictures. The destroyed film was valued at about $100,000.



February 26, 1923


A “prop” fire became a genuine blaze and damaged a cabin set and singed every actor in the filming of an episode of The Phantom Fortune (1923) serial. William Desmond suffered slight burns and minor lacerations when he dragged Cathleen Calhoun from the burning cabin with her costume ablaze. Esther Ralston suffered scorched hands, arms and back. Robert F. Hill, the director, was burned about the neck and ears. Cameraman, “Buddy” Harris had his right hand severely burned. Three electricians and a property man also sustained minor injuries.


The fire was caused by flares used to simulate flames that ignited the woodwork of the set. All the injured were given emergency treatment at the studio hospital and then taken home.



Universal Film Corporation, 1924 (LAPL)



August 27, 1925


A fire broke out on the set of The Midnight Sun (1926) starring Laura La Plante and Pat O’Malley. Five hundred extras were thrown into a panic, many of them trampled under foot and two injured slightly when a gigantic set representing the interior of the Petrograd Imperial Ballet was swept by fire.


The cause of the blaze was a sputtering overhead-arc light which came in contact with a huge drapery, part of the decorations imported from Paris for the production. Three days of shooting had to be reshot because of the destruction of the draperies which could not be duplicated. The estimated damage to the set was $15,000.



April 8, 1927


A fire started in the editing room when a lamp burned out and a spark flew into a stack of film. The fire, which threatened to spread, was confined to the single building, but the building was destroyed.


Many thousands of feet of film had to be reshot. Among the films destroyed was Reginald Denney’s Fast and Furious (1927). The loss due to the fire was estimated at $10,000.



January 7, 1931


A blaze started in a frame structure used for cutting short-length films. The cutters narrowly escaped when the room burst into flames. They were slightly overcome by fumes generated by the burning film, but were revived in the studio infirmary. The studio fire department confined the fire to the one building. Damage was placed at $10,000 to the film and $5,000 to the building.



October 25, 1932


A brush fire broke out in the woodlands behind Universal and swept through fifteen acres of land and destoyed two film sets valued at $10,000. While the main stages and sets were not in danger, the sets destroyed were used in Frankenstein (1931) and the William Wyler film, A House Divided (1931).



September 8, 1937


A brush fire fanned by a stiff breeze burned over twenty-two acres on the Universal back lot destroying three houses used as a motion-picture set. A score of wild animals caged near a jungle set and several hillside residences were also in danger of the blaze.


One of the destroyed houses was an old type Spanish ranch that had been used in hundreds of western films. The other two were a part of what was known as the Swiss Village and were originally built in 1922 for a John Barrymore picture.


The wild animals included Universal’s famous black panther, the trained chimpanzee “Skippy,” and numerous lions, leopards and other animals. The collection was valued at $50,000.


The estimated damage to the back lot was $10,000.



December 23, 1954


A fire broke out on the set of One Desire (1955) starring Anne Baxter and Rock Hudson. The script called for Baxter to throw a book at Hudson, and knock over a kerosene lamp. She did and the flames swept up the drapes, however members of the crew were unable to contain the blaze as it whipped to the ceiling of the sound stage. The heat opened sprinklers over an adjacent stage and caused damage to other sets prepared for the same film.



Universal back lot during the 1957 fire 


September 25, 1957


An acre of permanent street-scene sets was destroyed by a fire that broke out on Universal’s back lot shortly before 5 pm. None of the street scenes involved in the fire was in use. A complete theater set on “New York Street,” a landmark for twenty years, was consumed in the fire. The heat melted and twisted the steel girder frame of the building that had been used in numerous films. The last film to use the set was the remake of My Man Godfrey (1957) starring David Niven. The damage was estimated at $500,000.



May 15, 1967


A fire started in a barn on the “Laramie Street” set and spread north and east over twelve acres of movie and television sets. At times, flames leaped more than 100-feet into the air. The “European,” “Denver” and “Laramie” streets were burned to the ground by the fire which roared out of control for more than an hour.


Wind-blown sparks showered upon nearby Warner Bros. Studios causing at least one minor fire on the roof of the old casting building. Embers were carried as far as NBC Studios, two miles away and across the river to the Lakeside golf course.


The “European” set was originally built in 1930 for filming of All Quiet on the Western Front and had been used for countless films since. The destroyed “Laramie” set was used for the television show Laredo and the “Denver” street for The Virginian series.


The total estimated damage was set at $1 million.



The famous Courthouse Square set at Universal that once again escaped destruction. (Universal Studios)



November 6, 1990


A spectacular fire ravaged four acres of the Universal back lot and destroyed the New York Street; an adjacent alley set; Brownstone Street; a portion of the Courthouse Square where Back to the Future was filmed and the Dick Tracy Building. Also heavily damaged was the King Kong and Earthquake exhibits on the studio tour.


The New York Street set was used in the films The Sting (1973), and Dick Tracy (1990), among others. Beside the Back to the Future films, the Courthouse Square set was used in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). The fire was set by a studio guard who was later sentenced to four years in prison. Damage was estimated at $25 million.


Ironically, this is in the same area that was destroyed in Sunday’s fire. This time, however, the King Kong exhibit was completely destroyed. Investigators have determined that this fire was caused by workers repairing a roof on the New York Street set.



September 6, 1997


Improperly stored chemicals were blamed for a fire that destroyed the northern side of Courthouse Square. Once again this building was spared.






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Ben Kingsley gets Star on Walk of Fame

Saturday, May 29th, 2010


Ben Kingsley honoured on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame



British Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley got his star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame Thursday, a milestone in his long acting career he said he never suspected of achieving.


“Dear friends, standing here today amongst you is one of the many things I thought growing up in England that would never happen to me and it has and I’m thrilled,” Kingsley, 66, said at the unveiling ceremony attended by his wife, fellow actor Bruce Willis and around 100 admirers.


The unveiling of the 2,410th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame came on the eve of the release of Kingsley’s latest film, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” based on the video game of the same name. Kingsley plays the evil nobleman Nizam in the film.


The four-time Oscar nominee clinched Hollywood’s top award in 1983 for his riveting, internationally acclaimed performance in “Gandhi.” He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2002.


Born in Scarborough, Britain as Krishna Pandit Bhanji to a British mother and Indian-origin father, Kingsley made his stage debut in London in 1966 as the narrator of “A Smashing Day,” which was produced by former Beatles manager Brian Epstein.


After changing his name fearing his original one would hurt his career, Kingsley joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1967 and made his film debut in a supporting role in “Fear Is the Key” (1972).


In February, he made his debut in a Bollywood film – the thriller “Teen Patti” (Three Cards), in which he plays a brilliant mathematician.



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Gary Coleman Obituary

Friday, May 28th, 2010


Gary Coleman dies at 42; child star of hit sitcom ‘Diff’rent Strokes’



 (Associated Press)


The actor dies in Utah days after a brain hemorrhage. After soaring to fame in the late 1970s, his post-TV-series life included a stint as a shopping mall security guard and an unlikely run for California governor.


By Dennis McLellan,
Los Angeles Times
May 28, 2010


Gary Coleman, who soared to fame in the late 1970s as the child star of the hit sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes” and whose post-TV-series life included a stint as a shopping mall security guard and an unlikely run for California governor, died Friday. He was 42.


Click here to continue reading the Los Angeles Times obituary for Gary Coleman



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T-Bone Walker’s 100th Birthday

Friday, May 28th, 2010


T-Bone Walker








Click below to hear T-Bone Walker sing “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me so Strong”






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Valentino’s psychic message

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010


Did Valentino speak from the grave?





By Allan R. Ellenberger


Rudolph Valentino. One of the most popular film actors while he lived evidently had aspirations to act on the legitimate stage once he was dead. Yes that is correct, at least according to his ex-wife, Natacha Rambova who made that revelation – and others – three months after Valentino’s death.


Rambova, whose real name was Winifred Hudnut, arrived in the states from Europe on November 25, 1926 with George B. Wehner, who claimed he was a medium associated with the American Society for Psychical Research.


The essence of Valentino’s revelations concerning his activities since his death according to Rambova and Wehner were:


  1. Valentino was a citizen of the astral plane.
  2. He hopes to become a legitimate actor there.
  3. He met Enrico Caruso and heard the late tenor sing.
  4. He visited theaters (on the worldly plane) where his films were being shown and was pleased at the “flattery” he sensed in the minds of the audience.
  5. Everything in the theater, however, seemed strange to him as he could “see through all things.”
  6. His wish was that his will (which left nothing to Rambova) to be carried out as executed and believes it would be done.
  7. He made no mentions in his “communications” of Pola Negri, who had announced at his death that they had been engaged to be married.


Rambova explained this last point, apparently to her own satisfaction, by saying that Valentino only “spoke to her of significant things and subjects that mean something.”





Wehner explained that while he was at Rambova’s chateau outside Paris he received a psychic message that Valentino was going to die. Later, he said, he received a “spiritual message” from Valentino calling for Rambova. He said she replied by cable and received a reply by radio. All this was, of course, prior to the actor’s death.


While Valentino’s body was lying in state in the funeral church here, besieged by thousands of admirers, Wehner said he received a “communication” from the screen star deploring the fact that he had “recognized and spoken” to many of those who filed past his bier, but that they had not known he was “addressing” them.


Of course, Pola Negri could not let this pass without responding. She and Valentino’s brother, Alberto, both said that they were not impressed with the “message from the astral plane” which Rambova claimed she received from her late husband.


When Alberto was told of her statements, he shrugged his shoulders and said:


“I think Rudolph would have communicated with his own brother if he had any message to send from the other side. I never have heard of Wehner nor the American Society of Psychical Research, with which the medium claims to be associated. It always was our belief that someone friendly to all concerned must be the medium through which thoughts after death must be presented.”





Pola, who announced after Valentino’s death that they had been engaged to be married, stopped working at the studio long enough to say:


“There has been so much trickery in the name of spiritualism that I think only direct contact with the departed one would be convincing. In this particular instance, regarding my own recent loss, I feel that the subject is altogether too sacred to be commercialized, and I cannot help thinking that this publicity that we have been reading is unworthy of the grand dignity of the great beyond.”


Jean Acker, Valentino’s first wife also commented by saying that the actor did not believe in spirit messages and expressed the opinion that none had been received.


“Rudolph Valentino did not believe in spirit messages,” Acker said. “He was intelligent, and if he had lived the world would have heard of him in other ways. Even if such messages were received, they should have been too sacred to broadcast. “


Bess Houdini, whose magician-husband had died only a few weeks earlier, and who also fought against so-called psychic charlatans, spoke about Rambova’s claim:


“There is no doubt that Miss Rambova believes the messages to be from Valentino,” said Mrs. Houdini. “I also have received messages through mediums supposedly from Houdini, but those messages were an insult to my intelligence.”


“Would a man with the brilliant mind Houdini possessed send such an insane message as ‘I am very happy here,’ and talk about wills? No, Houdini’s message will be worthwhile, and until some medium who claims he or she is favored by our Almighty Father to communicate with our beloved dead speaks those sacred words of our compact, I will be skeptical and promptly consign all other messages to the waste basket.


“Miss Rambova also claims that only real love counts over there. What was our love, our Holy love; thirty-two years of love and devotion? Surely, if love counts, I should be blessed with the gift of speaking to my dead. Surely, if any beloved dead speaks to these mediums, who claim communications, he would say that I am waiting to hear and not the nonsense they say he speaks.


“I have in my possession a priceless heritage – from my dead – letters; letters that he wrote; fifteen, one each year, not to be opened until his death, letters that breathed love and devotion. They were read by me after we had laid him beside his beloved parents and each priceless gem read:


“Sweetheart mine, when you read this I will be at rest, at rest beside my sainted parents. Do not grieve, dear heart, I have just gone ahead and will be waiting for you – yours in life, death and ever after.”






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Art Linkletter Obituary

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010


Art Linkletter dies at 97: broadcasting pioneer created ‘Kids Say the Darndest Things’



Linkletter was a radio host when he began interviewing children to get their unvarnished utterances. He went on to TV, became an author and entrepreneur, and was an advocate for senior citizens remaining active.


By Myrna Oliver and Valerie J. Nelson
Los Angeles Times
May 27, 2010


Art Linkletter, the radio and television talk-show pioneer who was best known for eliciting hilarious remarks from the mouths of babes and who late in life was a popular motivational speaker and author, challenging seniors to live as zestfully as he did, has died. He was 97.


 Click here to continue reading the Los Angeles Times for Art Linkletter



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Scatman Crothers’ 100th Birthday

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010


Scatman Crothers







  • BORN: May 23, 1910, Terre Haute, Indiana
  • DIED: November 22, 1986, Van Nuys, California
  • CAUSE OF DEATH: Pneumonia and lung cancer



Click below for Scatman Crothers performing “Ain’t She Sweet”






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Artie Shaw’s 100th Birthday

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010


Artie Shaw








Click below to hear Artie Shaw and his orchestra






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Where is Claire Windsor – Update!

Thursday, May 20th, 2010


The disappearance of Claire Windsor – UPDATE




UPDATE: A reader from Claire Windsor’s birthplace has provided some additional information behind the story of Windsor’s disappearance:


“Greetings from Cawker City, Kansas; home town of Claire Windsor and the World’s Largest Ball of Twine!  In later years, Claire confessed that Lois Weber had hatched the plan for Claire’s disappearance to get a little publicity for her upcoming film.  Poor Chaplin was not let in on the secret and it spoiled Claire and Charlie’s personal relationship.  Little Billy Windsor, Claire’s only son, learned well from the experience and later, in an effort to get his mother’s attenetion, fabricated a story that men had come to the front door of thier house and tried to kidnap him!


“Claire’s 30 hour dissapearance could have turned into career ending negative publicity if the police chief’s explanation of events had been believed.  He had surmized that Claire had probably attended a ‘snow party’ and had lost her memory ! ! !  I guess even back then, drugs were a big problem in Hollywood. “


By Allan R. Ellenberger


Claire Windsor, a Kansas-born music student who came to Hollywood to seek her fortune, was pulled out of the ranks of extras by director Lois Weber, who was casting To Please One Woman (1920) and offered her a role. An immediate success, the blonde actress became one of the busiest and best-known performers in Hollywood.


In the summer of 1921, with only four films in release in the previous six months, Windsor was enjoying her new found success as a leading lady. On Tuesday, July 12, during filming of The Blot, also directed by Weber, Windsor took a deserved day off to go horseback riding in the Hollywood hills. Early that morning she rented a horse and headed alone through the Cahuenga Pass.


When Windsor did not turn up at home (1042 Third Avenue) that evening, family members called the Hollywood police, who employed an airplane to search the hills the following morning. A group of Boy Scouts who were camping in the hills also aided in the search as did many of her friends. Charlie Chaplin offered a reward leading to her location.


By eight o’clock on Wednesday evening, Windsor had been missing for 36 hours when Stella Dodge, who lived at the intersection of Highland and Cahuenga (now part of the Hollywood Freeway), heard moans outside her home. She investigated and found Windsor lying on the lawn underneath her window. Dodge helped Windsor into her house and called Dr. C.W. Cook and the Hollywood police. An ambulance arrived and took her to Angelus Hospital at 1925 S. Trinity Street (demolished). When found, she was wearing her riding habit, which was badly torn by thorns, and she still had on her riding gloves.


A thorough examination at the hospital revealed the only external injury was an abrasion on the back of her left ear and exposure and hunger due to her long isolation in the hills. Her nose was bleeding which suggested possible internal injuries. Her pulse was low and she was unable to speak until the following morning.


It was Dr. Cook’s opinion that Windsor was thrown from her horse, suffering an injury to the back of her head, and had wandered about in the Hollywood hills until she was found semiconscious. Chaplin and other film friends rushed to the hospital once it was learned she was found.


Of course, Windsor recuperated and continued a long career that spanned three decades, 50 silent films and seven talkies. Claire Windsor died at age 80 from a heart attack on October 23, 1972 at Good Samaritan Hospital. She is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.



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