Archive for August, 2017

The story of Rudolph Valentino’s borrowed grave

Saturday, August 19th, 2017

 

 

Once the late silent film star Rudolph Valentino had been interred and the obsequies completed, the thought of how the actor would be remembered was foremost in everyone’s mind. The city of Chicago, home of the infamous “Pink Powder Puffs” editorial, formed the Rudolph Valentino Memorial Association in the hopes of erecting a remembrance of some kind. The Arts Association of Hollywood proposed a monument that would be the forerunner of a series of memorials to pioneers of the film industry. A committee of local Italians, which included director Robert Vignola, Silvano Balboni, and his wife, screenwriter June Mathis, suggested the construction of an Italian park on Hollywood Boulevard with a memorial theater and a large statue of Valentino as its central feature. Despite those grandiose projects, no memorials materialized—and it slowly became apparent that the same would happen with Valentino’s final resting place.

Valentino and his manager, George Ullman

After Valentino’s death, a decision could not be made as to where the actor’s body would finally rest. George Ullman, Valentino’s manager, was confident that Alberto, the actor’s brother and the person who would have the final say, would consent to interring the body in Hollywood. The Mayor of Castellaneta, Valentino’s birthplace, cabled Alberto imploring him to have the actor’s body returned there for burial with ceremony. Valentino’s sister Maria, who at first wanted her brother brought back to Italy, later concurred with the Hollywood delegation, thanks in part to the suggestion of William Randolph Hearst. To solve the problem—at least temporarily—June Mathis offered her own crypt at Hollywood Cemetery’s Cathedral Mausoleum until an appropriate memorial could be decided upon or built.

A movement was started for the erection of a worthy memorial that women admirers wanted to be “everlasting.” Ullman and Joseph Schenck, head of United Artists and Valentino’s boss, formed a committee called the Valentino Memorial Fund with other producers, Carl Laemmle, M.C. Levee and John W. Considine Jr. Appeals were made to the public to donate one dollar each; memorial societies were organized in New York and Chicago, and were expected to extend to other cities around the world. Ullman sent out one-thousand letters to members of the film colony in which he expressed his feelings that the “success of the memorial will be a tribute not only to Rudolph Valentino, but to the motion picture industry, as a whole.”

The outlook appeared to be a success. Letters deploring the death of Valentino poured in by the thousands. Certain that sufficient contributions would be forthcoming, the committee authorized architects to submit designs for a mausoleum, with an estimated cost placed at $10,000.

However, the public response was not what they anticipated. A check for $500 came from an English noble woman. Other checks for $100 came from actors Ernest Torrence and William S. Hart. From the one-thousand letters that Ullman sent, fewer than a half-dozen replies were received. The committee collected approximately $2,500, half of which came from America; the major donations came from England, Germany, Italy, India, and South America.

Valentino and June Mathis

In the meantime, June Mathis died in New York (less than a year later). When Valentino’s body was placed in her crypt, Mathis had said, “You many sleep here Rudy, until I die.” Now that time had come; a decision had to be made about what to do with Valentino’s remains. As a good-will gesture, Silvano Balboni offered to have Valentino’s casket moved to his crypt next to Mathis’ until the Valentino estate ironed out its problems. On August 8, 1927, cemetery workers entered the Cathedral Mausoleum and, what proved to be one last time, moved Valentino’s remains to the adjoining crypt, number 1205.

Artist’s conception of the planned tomb for Rudolph Valentino at Hollywood Cemetery.

 

Artist’s conception of the front and overview of Valentino’s planned memorial.

While public memorials were still being considered, Valentino’s body lay in a borrowed tomb. Photoplay magazine published plans for a proposed tomb by architect Matlock Price in the November 1926 issue. The design incorporated an exedra, a half-circle of columns standing serene and dignified against a dark background and curving towards the observer. Within that half-circle, a “heroic” bronze figure of Valentino as the Sheik, seated on an Arabian horse, towered above the onlooker. Following the curve of the exedra, a broad bench sat under two pergolas running across the ends of the terrace, which was paved with red Spanish tile.

These plans also went nowhere, and a permanent mausoleum for Valentino never materialized. Ullman hoped that the City of Los Angeles would provide the plot for a grave at Hollywood Cemetery and the $2,500 that was collected could be used for a bust of the actor to rest on a granite stand.

The statue “Aspiration,” dedicated to Valentino’s memory, shortly after it was dedicated. It still stands today in De Longpre Park.

Instead, in May 1930, a memorial to Valentino was finally erected, not at Hollywood Cemetery, but in De Longpre Park in central Hollywood; the only one of its kind dedicated to an actor in the film capitol.

Ironically, fans still flocked to his crypt (reportedly, Valentino is still one of the most visited grace sites today). But not always reverently. Once, a marble pedestal that stood before his crypt was overturned and broken to bits. Some of the pieces were carried away by souvenir hunters. Tourists would come, gaze at Valentino’s marker, then break flowers from the baskets and hide them in their clothing, as keepsakes.

Some attempts to remember Valentino have been positive. In London, a roof garden at the Italian Hospital was opened and dedicated to Valentino. Paid for by British money, it was the first attempt to perpetrate Valentino’s memory.

Finally, in April 1934, after Valentino’s body lay in a borrowed tomb for almost eight years, Silvano Balboni sold the crypt to Alberto. Balboni returned to Italy and never returned to the United States; Valentino now had his own resting place.

An early memorial to Valentino at his gravesite.

One wonder’s why the funds for the hoped-for resting place did not happen after Valentino’s death. The actor’s estate at the time could not cover the cost; it would not be fluid for several years. But certainly, his fellow actors who called him “friend,” could have pooled their money, or, any one of them could have paid the cost on their own. It was a mystery then and remains so today.

Nevertheless, every year on August 23rd at 12:10 p.m. (the time that Valentino died in New York), scores of fans gather near his crypt at Hollywood Forever Cemetery to remember the man. Regardless of the circus atmosphere that once prevailed at these events during the past ninety years, whether it be reports of the actor’s ghost or the appearance of mysterious, dark-veiled women, it is hoped that somehow the spirit of Rudolph Valentino, the “Great Lover,” now rests in peace.

If you are in the Los Angeles-Hollywood area on Wednesday, August 23, 2017, drop by the Rudolph Valentino Memorial at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The service is held at the Cathedral Mausoleum and begins at 12:10 p.m.; the time of Valentino’s death in New York. Arrive early as seats go quickly. See you there.

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Reviews for Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

 

 

 

UPDATE: Here are reviews for Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel, to be published on January 5, 2018 by the University Press of Kentucky, is available NOW for pre-order at 30% off the cover price thru September 30, 2017 at UPK’s website! Please use discount code FS30 when ordering. Thank you.

 

“As Ellenberger’s approach mines detail after detail and anecdote after anecdote, from Hopkins’s echt southern beginnings to every zigzag of her life afterward, the woman who emerges is complex and compulsively compelling.”—Sheila Benson, former chief film critic for the Los Angeles Times and writer for the National Society of Film Critics

“The too often underrated and overlooked Miriam Hopkins is finally getting the spotlight she deserves. Allan Ellenberger has excavated the nuances and fascinating complexities of the woman Tennessee Williams thought he was complimenting when he said she was ‘the quintessence of the female, a really magnificent bitch.’ It turns out that Hopkins life off camera was as dramatic as any role she played.” — Cari Beauchamp, author of Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood 

“Outstanding for its authoritative research, Allan R. Ellenberger’s Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel is a lively, interesting book about a lively, interesting woman.” — Emily W. Leider, author of Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood

“Tennessee Williams called her a ‘Magnificent Bitch.’ There’s probably no better label to summarize the forceful hurricane known as Miriam Hopkins, whose professional achievements both on Broadway and in Hollywood were as notable as her feuds with Bette Davis, Edward G. Robinson, Samuel Goldwyn, Warner Bros. head Jack Warner, and other luminaries of the studio era. Allan Ellenberger’s Hopkins bio is a must-read for those interested in getting to know this complex, contradictory, and immensely talented 20th century personage who dared to rebel against conventional ‘woman roles’ both on and off screen.” — André Soares, Alt Film Guide

“Allan Ellenberger’s thorough, empathetic biography captures the passionate, full-blooded life of celebrated actress Miriam Hopkins, revealing the idiosyncratic and complex life of one of Hollywood’s most intelligent women.” — Mary Mallory, author of Hollywood at Play: The Lives of the Stars Between Takes

 

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Rare and restored films return to the big screen at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theater on Labor Day Weekend

Friday, August 11th, 2017

For more than half a century Cinephiles have gathered over Labor Day Weekend to celebrate the movies at the annual Cinecon Classic Film Festival. Cinecon is where archivists, authors, collectors and film fans come together for five days of classic film screenings, special programs, celebrity guests, and the best movie memorabilia show in the nation. Cinecon is dedicated to showcasing unusual films that are rarely given public screenings.

Cinecon 53 will take place in Hollywood from August 31, through September 4, 2017. Loews Hollywood Hotel is the host hotel with all screenings taking place at the historic Egyptian Theater just down the street on Hollywood Blvd. The festival is presented in partnership with Hollywood Heritage, the renowned museum and preservation organization.

On Thursday, August 31st, the festival will open in grand style with a gala reception in the forecourt of the Egyptian Theatre followed by a David Shepard tribute screening of Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) starring Buster Keaton. Famous Players Orchestra will provide live musical accompaniment for the film. Legendary actor Norman Lloyd, a personal friend of Buster Keaton’s, will be honored with the Cinecon Legacy Award that night (schedule permitting).

This year’s festival will be taking advantage of the fact that the Egyptian Theatre’s projection booth is now equipped to run Nitrate film. The “Saturday Nitrate Fever” program will include a print of Untamed (1940) and actress Patricia Morison (schedule permitting) is slated to appear before the film. The Spielberg Theatre downstairs will be the home to “Kinecon at Cinecon,” a new and unique program focusing on rare kinescopes (an early form of preservation) from the early television years and many of the films presented come from the only surviving material.

Comedy film fans will be excited to attend a premiere of a new documentary from award winning filmmaker Andreas Baum entitled Harold Lloyd: Hollywood’s Timeless Comedy Genius. Harold’s granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd will be on hand to introduce the film which includes private family footage never before seen in public.

Among the films being scheduled for Cinecon 53 is a rarely seen version of Anything Goes (1936) starring Bing Crosby and Ethel Merman and The Texas Streak (1926) featuring popular screen cowboy Hoot Gibson, who plays a Hollywood cowboy actor in this silent western adventure. Legendary star Spencer Tracy will be seen in Now I’ll Tell (1934), co-starring Alice Faye, in an early screen appearance. Once again Cinecon will be paying tribute to everyman Jack Oakie by showing a couple of films from his diverse resume: The Texas Rangers (1936) co-starring Fred MacMurray and directed by King Vidor; and Bowery to Broadway (1944), featuring an all-star cast of favorites including Maria Montez, Susanna Foster and Turhan Bey, plus cameos by Donald O’Connor and Peggy Ryan.

Some of the silent films slated for viewing this year include Thomas Ince’s production of Bellboy 13 (1923). William Seiter, director of Laurel & Hardy’s Sons of the Desert, helmed this early gem. When Dawn Came (1920) the stirring story of a blind girl played by Colleen Moore whose sight is restored by the hero who has fallen in love with her.

Having been lost for years, The Library of Congress reconstructed Captain Blood (1924) from the surviving elements. While most people are familiar with Errol Flynn’s 1935 epic, this is the initial screen version based on author Rafael Sabatini’s popular novel starring J. Warren Kerrigan and Jean Paige. Cinecon will also be hosting a world “Re-Premiere” of Polly Redhead (1917), newly preserved by Universal, this charming comedy stars Ella Hall as a Pickford-ish waif with a toddler brother who talks her way into a maid’s job at a wealthy couple’s estate.

This year’s stellar line-up of early sound films encompasses such unusual titles as The Accusing Finger (1936) starring last year’s recipient of the Cinecon Legacy Award, Marsha Hunt. We hope to have Ms. Hunt with us this again this year; Spring Tonic (1935) featuring Cinecon favorite Claire Trevor; The President Vanishes (1934) a political thriller based on the novel by Rex Stout, creator of Nero Wolfe; Woman-Wise (1937) an action-packed sports drama directed with a light touch by Allan Dwan; and Sing and be Happy (1937), a rarely seen Fox Musical starring a young Tony Martin. Plus, we’ll be featuring a “Salute to Universal 1940’s B-Pictures” with a trio of quickies, North to the Klondike (1942), La Conga Nights (1940) and Riders of the Santa Fe (1944), all three films will be projected in recently restored 35MM prints from Universal Pictures.

There will also be an interesting selection of short films including a presentation of Milton Schwarzwald’s Mentone Shorts. These one & two-reelers, produced at Universal Studios in the 1930s, were never sold to television or home markets, so they have not been seen for over eight decades. Film historian Mark Cantor will introduce this special program of rarities.

Cinecon 53 will also feature special programs as well as a movie memorabilia show at Loews Hollywood Hotel located at 1755 N. Highland Avenue in Hollywood, around the corner from the Egyptian Theater. Attendees may purchase rare movie stills, posters, lobby cards and other film-related collectibles in our dealer’s rooms and have books signed at our author’s tables.

All announced titles are subject to final film clearances. Please check Cinecon 53 Website for schedule updates, details on how to register, and hotel information. Also visit our Facebook page HERE. Passes are available for purchase online at Cinecon Film Festival.

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Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

*This is a passage that never made it into my upcoming biography, Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel, to be published on January 5, 2018 by the University Press of Kentucky. Copies can be preordered at AMAZON.

By Allan R. Ellenberger

One day, in her dressing room at Goldwyn Studios, Miriam Hopkins hosted a lunch for her husband Anatole Litvak, director Edmund Goulding and his Lordship, The Earl of Warwick, who she met in London the previous year. Warwick was in Hollywood to kick start an acting career using the stage name Michael Brooke.

As they dined, she received a call from her ex-husband, Austin “Billy” Parker, asking if he could borrow her car and chauffeur. Since his valet-chauffeur was in an accident, he needed a man to wake him in the morning, make his tea, shine his shoes, and so forth. Thinking fast, Miriam realized this was a chance to play a practical joke on her former husband. She explained that her car was in the shop, but she would ask Edmund Goulding if he could help.

Placing Billy on hold, she said to the Earl, “You want to get in pictures, don’t you? Well, if you can pass yourself off as a servant before [Billy], who knows actors and theaters backward, then you’ll know you’re good.” The Earl nodded in agreement. Miriam told Billy that Goulding would loan him his valet for the day.

“Is the man a good valet?” Billy asked.

“Excellent,” Miriam assured him.

Billy sounded pleased. “That’s marvelous,” he said. Warwick borrowed a chauffeur’s uniform from Goldwyn’s costume department and reported to Billy’s home the next morning, promptly at eight o’clock. Billy, still in bed, bellowed for his tea and toast. Warwick burned the toast. The morning tea was bitter and black, and the teacups and two vases were somehow broken. When Billy ordered him to make the bed, lumps like mountains remained in the coverlets.

His Lordship helped Billy on with his boots, but he was clumsy. The shoe polish spilled into the shoes, on the floor, and everywhere. When they left the house at noon, Billy was terribly pressed; jerkily shaven and the Earl’s erratic driving down Sunset Boulevard left him a nervous wreck. He was disgusted but didn’t want to be ungracious to the man that Goulding had so graciously loaned him.

The Earl dropped Billy off at the Vine Street Brown Derby where Miriam, Litvak and Goulding were waiting. After several minutes, a prearranged phone call was brought to their table. Finally, she hung up and said to her ex-husband, “I’m sorry Billy, but Edmund’s man says he can’t possibly stay the day with you. He says you are impossible, temperamental, sloppy, surly and hard to please.”

Astonished, Billy turned fifty-shades of red, but before he could express his disbelief, Miriam added: “Oh, and by the way. He doesn’t like the way you dress.” Just as Billy was about to spout off his full inventory of obscenities, “Goulding’s man” came in, casually took a place at the table, rubbed his hands together, and gave an off-hand nod at Billy. “May I present the Earl of Warwick?” said Miriam, who, along with the others at the table, had a good laugh at Billy’s expense

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Eugene Plummer, the Last of the Dons

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

Eugene Rafael Plummer (Los Angeles Public Library)

By Allan R. Ellenberger

He was straight of stature, succinct of speech, and as well-versed in nature as he was in the old days when Hollywood was not yet a dream and Los Angeles was a dusty pueblo.  Eugene Rafael Plummer, the man for whom Plummer Park in West Hollywood was named, was born in San Francisco on January 8, 1852. His father, John Cornelius Plummer  was a Canadian sea captain and his mother, Maria, was half Spanish and half Irish, a mixture which gave the younger Plummer the fire and romance of old Spain and the devil-may-care temperament of the Irish.

When Eugene was 16, Captain Plummer moved his family to Los Angeles where he homesteaded 160 acres of land where the Ambassador Hotel stood. He later acquired property which is now bounded by Wilshire and Beverly Boulevards, and La Brea Avenue and Vine Street.

In 1828, the land that now encompasses Plummer Park was a part of the 4,439 acre Rancho La Brea, granted by Governor Echandia to Antonio Rocha. After several selling’s, the property was sold to Major Hancock in 1865 for $2.50 an acre. In 1874, Plummer acquired the official title to the Plummer Rancho comprising 160-acres between Sunset and Santa Monica Boulevards and La Brea and Gardner Avenues.

That same year, on the three acres of land that eventually became Plummer Park, Captain Plummer’s sons, Juan (John) and Eugene built their home, a typical ranch house.

Plummer House, the home of Eugene Plummer that stood in Plummer Park for over 100 years. (Los Angeles Public Library)

In the early days Plummer’s home was the only habitation from Hollywood to the Plaza district and rattlesnakes, cactus and bandits were his only companions. Later, his home was the headquarters for the Vaquero Club, a group of adventurous horse riders.

In 1881, Plummer married Maria Amparo La Moraux and the couple had a daughter that they named Frances. As a court reporter for 25 years, she would befriend the pueblo’s Mexicans and act as their interpreter in court cases.

As early as 1922, the acreage was unofficially called Plummer Park. Six years later, options were offered by a committee of prominent bankers and businessmen to make it official. Plummer hoped to make around $25,000 from the deal but nothing ever came of it. In 1925, his wife Maria died and was interred at Hollywood Cemetery next to his father John.

By this time, Eugene Plummer was Hollywood’s oldest resident, and his homestead became its oldest residence. Each year, he would host the old-timers picnic which was open to as many of Hollywood’s original residents that were still living.

Gradually, Plummer’s debts continued to mount until he was forced into foreclosure. Ironically, Plummer once owned 142 acres where the Hollywood Bowl now is and sold it to a company named Burnoff & Teal for $2,400. In the 1930s, that same area was worth millions.  In 1935, Plummer Park was registered as a landmark. Finally, the county stepped in and acquired the Plummer land in 1937 for $15,000. Plummer was sad at the passing of his heritage, but never bitter.

Development of the park began the following year with the construction of a recreation building called the Great Hall/Long Hall at a cost of $65,000. The Spanish style structure, made of stucco and a red tile roof, included a dining room seating 300 persons. The building also had a library and reading room. The patio, adjacent to the kitchen, would seat 600 and was shaded by three ancient olive trees.

One condition of the purchase was that Senor Plummer be permitted to occupy the premises as long as he lived. The county designated him as the historical guide for the park. Plummer Park was filled with a fine collection of rare trees and plants. One pepper tree had a branch growing out horizontally over seventy-five feet in length. The limb was trained by Plummer by keeping a horseshoe on the end of it for many years.

The old frame home built by Plummer and his brother in 1874, was now used as the headquarters of the Audubon Society, and the office of the park superintendent. A modern home adjacent to the parks property became Plummer’s new home where he lived for the remainder of his life.

(Los Angeles Public Library)

In his later years Senor Plummer would sit beneath the shady pepper trees of Plummer Park, rolling cigarettes from loose tobacco, or break store-bought cigarettes into three lengths and smoke them a few puffs at a time in an old amber holder. Between puffs, he would conjure up memories of the “good old days” for anyone who asked.

Pepper trees were his favorites. “They kept the flies away,” he maintained. There was the time he chased a deer all the way up to what is now the corner of Hollywood and Highland and lassoed it. Nearby, in a little arroyo, he killed a giant brown bear after it had been gored in three places by a wild bull.

Once, in Laurel Canyon, he shot an antelope on the hillside but couldn’t find the bullet hole. “You scare him to death, senor,” said the old Indian who was with him. But it was later found that the bullet went right up the spine and lodged in the antelope’s brain. “Once in a million times,” said the Don concisely.

When Helen Hunt Jackson was writing “Ramona,” she used to visit Senor Plummer at his home for advice the early days of California. “If anybody is Alessandro, I am,” he said once during an interview, “for I showed Mrs. Jackson how young Spaniards and Indians made love.”

Senor Plummer welcomes actress Ruth Roland and banker G. G. Greenwood to Plummer Park.

Plummer delighted in wearing a tan leather jacket given to him by his friend Buffalo Bill. Another of his friends in the early days was the bandit Tiburcio Vasquez, who was shot by authorities in 1875. Plummer’s presence at the park gave it an air that no other presence could.

The plan was to keep the park in its original state for a unique gathering place for groups and societies. Barbecues and songfests under the old peppers and the eucalyptus trees were planned as the whirl of Hollywood traffic sped by. Visitors were sheltered by the towering blue gums, the gnarled old olives and the gigantic cypress that Plummer planted with his own hand in the late 1800s. Besides the old ranch house, the servant’s houses, the old barns, the barbecue pit, the old windmill, and the rodeo grounds, it became a chapter of the past brought into the present for the public.

Year after year Senor Plummer continued to enthrall and entertain the visitors to his park. To the last his mind and memory remained keen and filled with humorous memories. Then, one day, the Don suffered a heart attack in his home at Plummer Park. He wanted to remain at his hacienda with his collections of saddles, boots and guns, but friends convinced him to go to the hospital where he sank into a coma from which he never recovered. Senor Eugene Plummer died on May 19, 1943. He was 91 years old.

Eugene Plummer’s death certificate. (Click on image to enlarge)

Rosary for Eugene Plummer was recited in the chapel of Pierce Bros. Hollywood Mortuary. Mass was celebrated the following day at St. Ambrose’s Church at Fountain and Fairfax Avenues. More than 300 persons, most of them descendants of some of California’s oldest families, attended the rites. Plummer was interred next to his father and wife at Hollywood Cemetery.

The Plummer Family marker at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The names of  Plummers’ father and Eugene’s wife Maria are engraved. For whatever reason, Senor Plummer was never marked.

The Eugene Plummer family plot at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

As for the Plummer House, it was known as the “Oldest House in Hollywood” and was designated as State Historical Landmark No. 160 in 1935. The Audubon Society continued to use Plummer’s old homestead to house their library and exhibits until 1980. Sadly, vandals set fire to it twice, and ruined the Audubon’s library and exhibits. The house was almost destroyed and stood abandoned and filled with trash for over two years. It was almost razed. Happily, the Leonis Adobe Association heard about the house’s fate and arranged with the county to move the front part to the Leonis Adobe grounds. The house has since been repaired and restored, and is now a Visitor’s Center and Gift Shop.

The old house that Plummer and his brother built was moved to Leonis Adobe grounds in Calabasas.

Plummer Park was once again in the news for the drastic changes that the city of West Hollywood planned. If you asked visitors to Plummer Park, or members of West Hollywood’s city council, who Eugene Plummer was, they probably wouldn’t know. Virtually nothing remains of the park that Don Plummer knew and loved, and sadly, there is only one plaque that mentions him. Hopefully, that will be corrected.


When in Los Angeles, visit Plummer Park at 7377 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood.

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