Archive for the ‘Book/Film News’ Category

History of the Hollywood Sign

Saturday, December 8th, 2018

  

The Hollywood Sign, which was officially completed on December 8, 1923, celebrates its 95th anniversary today. It has had a remarkable and turbulent history and has endured its share of problems, including a suicide leap from the H, squabbles over who should maintain it, markings from mountain-climbing spray painters, hassles among community groups about its worth, battles with local residents to keep hikers from it, and threats over the years to tear it down.

The sign has been a part of the local scenery for 95 years, longer than many city landmarks such as Grauman’s Chinese, City Hall, the Shrine Auditorium and UCLA. It even predates Mulholland Drive and is decades older than any freeway.

As many know, the Hollywood sign is the remnant of an advertisement for a 640-acre real-estate development. When it was erected in 1923, the sign spelled HOLLYWOODLAND, the name of the housing development on the slope below it. The sign, however, was an afterthought.

As with many Hollywood origins, the sign’s beginnings have more than one version. The one chosen for this article goes as follows:

In the spring of 1923, John Roche, a 26-year-old advertising and promotional man, was working on a brochure for the Hollywoodland subdivision. He had drawn in proposed home sites, streets and equestrian trails. Behind them, on the side of Mt. Lee, he had penciled in HOLLYWOODLAND.

Harry Chandler, then publisher of the Los Angeles Times, was one of the project’s developers. When Roche arrived at his office with the drawing, Chandler liked the idea and wanted to know if a sign could be erected that could be seen all over Los Angeles.

For a good perspective, Roche drove to Wilshire Boulevard, then a little, partially asphalted road, to see if he could see the mountain from there. Roche took photographs and made drawings of the Hollywood hills. Roche calculated that each letter would have to be 50 feet high to be visible from that distance. When he reported to Chandler that such a sign would be seen, the project began.

“I made a sketch almost that big,” Roche explained in 1977. “I took it to Mr. Chandler’s office about 11 one night – he sat in his office until midnight every night and would talk to anybody – and he said, ‘Go ahead and do it.’ We didn’t have engineers or anything. We just put it up.”

As Roche had determined, each individual letter was built 50-feet high and 30-feet wide. They were assembled on metal panels, each three-by-nine-feet, and painted white. The next step was attaching the panels to a framework that consisted of wires, scaffolding and telephone poles, which were brought up the steep hillside by mules.

Fifty to one-hundred laborers dug the holes with pick axes and shovels. An access road was completed so the enormous sheet metal letters could be brought in. The sign was completed in about 60 days at a cost of $21,000. Years later, Roche said: “I think we built it faster than you could today (1984).” Roche recalled the sign being lighted, but insisted there were no lights on the original HOLLYWOODLAND. “That came sometime later,” he said.

At some point, the sign was illuminated at night by 4,000, 20-watt bulbs, evenly spaced around the outside edge of each letter. This required a caretaker (Albert Kothe, who lived in a cabin behind the first “L”), who maintained the sign and its lighting system. To replace burned out bulbs, Kothe would climb onto the framework behind each letter, the new light bulbs tucked in his shirt.

Since it was planned to promote real-estate, it was not designed to survive the sale of the last lot. Public sentiment, however, led to keeping the sign long after its commercial function was over.

During the sign’s heyday, many stars bought homes in Hollywoodland. The highest lot above the sign was sold to comedy producer Mack Sennett, but he never built there. Sennett did use the sign, though, to pose bathing beauties between the O’s for publicity stills.

There have been rumors of several suicides from the sign, especially during the Depression years, but the only acknowledged death occurred in 1932, when Peg Entwistle, a young actress who came to Hollywood from the Broadway stage, jumped to her death from the letter “H.”

In 1939, the lights were extinguished when the maintenance fund was discontinued by the realtors. It’s rumored that soon after, all 4,000 bulbs were stolen.

In 1945, the development company that owned it donated the sign and the land surrounding it to the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission as an adjunct parcel to Griffith Park. The sign, by this point, had been neglected and vandalized for several years.

In January 1949, the “H” blew down in a windstorm, and nearby residents complained that the sign was a hazard and an eyesore. On January 6, the Recreation and Parks Commission announced that the sign would be torn down. They denied a request of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to alter and repair the sign to read HOLLYWOOD.

Several days later, Councilman Lloyd G. Davies (who represented Hollywood) introduced a resolution before the City Council that the Chamber of Commerce would repair the sign, at an estimated cost of $5,000, furnish bond to guarantee its maintenance and provide the city with proper liability coverage, if the parks commission would consent. Davies said his district was sensitive about becoming known as “’OLLYWOOD.”

The parks commission later reversed its decision and allowed the first nine letters to be repaired, and removed the last four letters to read “HOLLYWOOD,” therefore transforming it from a commercial display into a community one.


By the early 1960s, weather again had taken a strong toll on the sign’s condition. At a cost of $4,500, it was restored by the Kiwanis. At irregular intervals, several civic groups had the metal facing repainted, but little structural maintenance was done.

In 1973, the city once again threatened to tear down the sign. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and local radio station KABC, began a “Save the Sign” campaign hoping to solicit $15,000 from the public to finance structural repairs, replace fallen facing panels, and give it a fresh coat of paint. That same year, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board designated it a monument, thus giving it dignity but no money.

One woman sent the repair fund a large check with a note: “My little girl in 1925 learned to spell from the sign.” Another recalled a proposal of marriage made to her in 1944 near the sign; she “foolishly” rejected it, but wondered how many accepted proposals were made there. A third woman calculated that if “All the couples who parked up there sent in $1, there would be more than enough.” Fortunately, the campaign was successful and the sign received a facelift and a reprieve–but it wouldn’t last for long.

On January 1, 1976, several young men, to mark the change in the marijuana law in California, masked the OOs with EEs made from white sheets. It read HOLLYWEED for a day.

A year later, the “D” became wobbly because of recent rainstorms and there was concern about how long it would stay in place. Up close, the sign creaked and rattled, even in a light wind. Its timbers were rotting. Sheet metal, rusted and corroded, fell from its face and loose securing cables dangled from some of the 50-foot high letters.

It was estimated that a replacement sign would go as high as $120,000. To generate interest in preserving the sign, a press conference was held at the base of the sign with invitations sent out accompanied by a snake bite kit.

CLICK HERE to watch the opening credits (3 minutes) of Savage Intruder (1970), the last film of actress Miriam Hopkins. It has creepy, close-up, footage of the deteriorating Hollywood Sign before it’s restoration. 

The chamber hoped to use money that was raised in 1975 by KIIS radio station to do cosmetic work on the landmark. “But the sign is in such bad shape, it will do us no good to raise small amounts of money,” said Michael Sims, executive director of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. “We’re either going to lose it or take care of it. That’s going to be up to Hollywood. What we really need now is a guardian angel.”

A few months later, in April 1977, the sign was altered to read HOLYWOOD for Easter Sunrise service, viewable from the Hollywood Bowl.

The following winter, the final blow came as wind and heavy rainstorms once again took a toll on the sign. The top of the first O fell off, the Y buckled inward toward the hillside, and the last O collapsed completely.

A campaign was established once again to “Save the Sign.” Eventually, after several efforts to raise money was not sufficient, nine donors came forward; each chose a letter and contributed $27,777.

The donors who paid for each letter included: (H) newspaper publisher, Terrance Donnelly; (O) Italian movie producer, Giovanni Mazza; (L) Les Kelly (Kelly Blue Book); (L) Gene Autry; (Y) Hugh Heffner; (W) Andy Williams; (O) Warner Bros. Records; (O) Alice Cooper, in memory of Groucho Marx; (D) Dennis Lidtke.

The new letters, made of steel, were unveiled on Hollywood’s (so-called) 75th anniversary, November 14, 1978.

Over the following years, unauthorized alterations have been made to the sign. In July 1987, it was changed to OLLYWOOD, (Ollie North) during the Iran-Contra hearings. During the Gulf War it read OIL WAR and in 1993, 20 members of UCLA’s Theta-Chi fraternity changed it to GO UCLA. The students were charged with trespassing, prompting the installation of a security system featuring video surveillance and motion detection. However, it didn’t prevent another institution of learning to alter it to CALTECH ten years later.

In any event, here’s hoping the Hollywood Sign will continue to look out over the Hollywood community for 95 more years and more.


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The Tragic Death of Gladys Brockwell: The Woman of a Thousand Expressions

Sunday, November 11th, 2018

Though virtually unknown today, Brockwell was a popular actress in the teens and 1920s.

Born Gladys Lindeman in Brooklyn, New York, on September 26, 1894, the daughter of a struggling chorus girl (Lillian “Billie” Brockwell). Brockwell entered show business at the age of 3, with her screen debut for the Lubin Company in 1913.

Brockwell was one of the earliest stars at the Fox Studios. Some of her most important career roles included The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), Stella Maris (1925), Man, Woman and Sin (1927), Janet Gaynor’s evil sister in Seventh Heaven (1927), The Woman Disputed (1928),  and The Home Towners (1928). Her last film appearance was in Universal’s The Drake Case (1929), which she finished two weeks before her death.

During the experimental days of sound at Warner Brothers, Brockwell appeared in short subjects tests. She also had a lead role in the first feature-length, all-talking film, Lights of New York (1928). (Click HERE to see Brockwell in a dramatic scene from Lights of New York

On Thursday, June 27, 1929, Brockwell and a friend, Thomas Stanley Brennan, an advertising man, were driving to Ventura in his new roadster. As they neared a curve near Calabasas (about 25-miles northwest of Hollywood, and now the home of the Kardashian’s and many other celebrities), the car skidded to the edge of the road and plunged 75 feet down an embankment, turning over three times when hitting the bottom. Brockwell was pinned beneath the wreckage with one of the car’s doors resting on her face. The couple was unconscious when passing motorists removed them from the wreckage.

They eventually were taken to Osteopathic Hospital where doctors diagnosed that Brockwell had received fractures of both lower jaws; fracture of the left upper jaw; fracture of the left collar bone; fracture of a vertebra, a broken pelvis, and a rupture of the large intestine. In addition, the left side of her face was paralyzed, caused by a severed facial nerve. As for Brennan, both of his shoulder blades were broken as well as several ribs.

Because their condition was serious, police could not obtain a coherent report of the accident. However, it was determined that neither had been drinking. Once Brennan regained consciousness, he explained that the accident was probably caused as a result of a cinder that blew into his eye just as they reached the dangerous curve in the road.

Following a second blood transfusion, Brockwell appeared to improve until perotonis set in as a result of her internal injuries. After two more transfusions, Gladys Brockwell died at 7 p.m. on July 2, 1929 at Osteopathic Hospital. The following day, actor Dustin Farnum died in New York.

Brockwell’s cause of death was from peritonitis, due to the puncture of the large intestine. No negligence was placed on Brennan, who was still recovering in the hospital.

Brockwell’s body was taken to the Ivy H. Overholtzer Mortuary at 1719 South Flower Street. Funeral services were conducted at 2 p.m. on July 5 at the Hollywood Cemetery chapel. The service was in charge of the Christian Science Church in the presence of many prominent film actors, directors and producers. Brockwell was cremated and her ashes given to her mother, Billie Brockwell, who died on January 29, 1949 and was interred at Inglewood Cemetery.

Death Certificate of Gladys Brockwell (click on image to enlarge)

Thomas Stanley Brennan survived his injuries. Ironically, almost twenty years later, on February 11, 1949, Brennan was a passenger in a car driven by a friend.

Aliso Street Bridge

As they crossed the Aliso Street Bridge near downtown, the driver attempted to cut in front of another car when he lost control, swerved across the bridge, smashed through the concrete rail and plunged 35 feet to the Los Angeles River below. The driver survived, but Brennan was killed instantly. He was interred at Glendale’s Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Death Certificate of Thomas Stanley Brennan (click on image to enlarge)

 

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Joseph Hazelton” “This Man Saw Lincoln Shot”

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

On April 14, 1865, a schoolboy, with his school books strapped across his shoulder, romped down Tenth Street in Washington DC. As he approached Ford’s Theatre, there standing in front was a tall man with raven black hair and a drooping mustache.

John Wilkes Booth

That man was the actor, John Wilkes Booth; that night, he would change the nation’s destiny. The boy was Joseph Hazelton, a “program boy” and usher at Ford’s Theatre. Shortly before his death in 1936, Hazelton believed he was the only man still living who witnessed the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln (actually, another man who claimed to also witness the assassination, Samuel James Seymore, lived until 1956 (age 96) and appeared on I’ve Got a Secret).

Hazelton was born at Wilmington, New York, on March 26, 1853 but his family later moved to Washington D.C. In the nation’s capital, he served as a Page in the U.S. Senate, and worked as a railroad clerk. He eventually became an actor on the stage, and later in films for over sixty-eight years, appearing in such silent films as Unrest (1914), Please Get Married (1919), and, most notably, in the role of Mr. Grimwig in Oliver Twist (1922) with Lon Chaney.

Joseph Hazelton (far left) as Mr. Grimwig, and Jackie Coogan in Oliver Twist (1922) (click on image to enlarge)

Hazelton would spend his life recalling the memories of Lincoln’s assassination, appearing on radio and lecturing at numerous venues across the country. The following account by Hazelton is an excerpt taken from an article published in Good Housekeeping (February 1927) magazine. The multi-page article, written by Campbell MacCulloch, was entitled, “This Man Saw Lincoln Shot:”

“[In front of Ford’s Theatre, Booth] beckoned me over to him, lifted my cap from my head, ran his fingers through my hair and said: ‘Well, little man, are you going to be an actor some day?’ I replied: ‘I don’t know, Mr. Booth, perhaps.’ 

“Little did I dream at the time that I would spend fifty years of my life in the theatrical profession. Booth took from his pocket a little folder, which contained the coin of the day commonly known as ‘shin plasters’ of the denominations of five, ten, twenty-five and fifty cents. Handing me a ten cent plaster, he pulled my hat playfully over my eyes, patted me on the shoulders and bade me run buy myself something… 

“Well, I went around the Theatre that night, as was my custom…It was a gala night, the play was ‘Our American Cousin’ and Laura Keene was the star. Almost everyone knew that the President would be there… The house was packed, the gold lace of the Army and Navy predominating. The President and his party came late, the second act was on, and as Mr. Lincoln entered the audience rose en masse and cheered, Mr. Lincoln came down to the front of the box…bowed his acknowledgments and took his seat and the play went on. The third act was on and I was standing directly opposite the President’s box, looking up at him…to see how he was enjoying the play. 

“I happened to turn my head toward the main entrance and saw Wilkes-Booth enter. He stopped a moment to say a word to Mr. Buckingham, the door-keeper, then started upstairs to the Dress Circle. As he passed along the side aisle toward the President’s box, I noticed the change in his dress. When he spoke to me in the afternoon he was dressed in the height of fashion…now he was wearing heavy riding boots, spurs, a blue flannel shirt and an army slouch hat. I wondered…what he was doing there on such a gala night dressed in such a garb. 

“I did not have long to wait, there was a flash, a report and President Lincoln has been assassinated. There are not words in the English language to describe the awful hush which fell over the house…no one seemed to take the initiative, until Laura Keene, rushing down to the footlights, cried, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the President has been shot!’ then all was pandemonium. 

“When Booth fired the shot he dropped the weapon, a single barrelled (sic) affair, called a derringer, and drawing a Bowie knife ran to the edge of the box. Major Rathbone tried to stop him, and received an ugly wound on his arm. Booth leaped over the rail of the box to the stage, but his spur caught in the American flag which draped the box and he fell to the stage…to my dying day I shall never forget the look of anguish and despair on that man’s face, as he half dragged himself to the center. 

“Then brandishing the knife above his head and with a maniac stare, cried out, ‘Sic Semper Tyrannis’. He managed to get to the stage door where his horse was being held, mounted and rode rapidly away… They carefully lifted the President and carried him across the street to the home of Mr. Peterson, one of our merchants. The building is now being used as the Olroyd Lincoln Museum….” 

At the end of the manuscript, Hazelton describes being under the window of the home where Lincoln’s body was taken, and hearing first-hand that the President had died. On the day that Hazelton told his story to MacCullough, Robert Todd Lincoln, the last surviving son of the martyred President, was laid to rest in a quiet New England community.

In addition, Hazelton would go on the radio every year on the anniversary of Lincoln’s death to tell his story. Click here to listen to Hazelton’s story in his own voice. 

Fascinatingly, Hazelton had some controversial opinions about John Wilkes Booth. He believed that Booth escaped from authorities the evening of the assassination, and fled to South America for a few years, returning to Enid, Oklahoma in 1903. Upon his deathbed, Booth called for a priest and asked for absolution, telling the priest that he was John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s assassin. He submitted credentials to the sheriff which indicated that he was Booth.

To corroborate his story, the sheriff was referred to Hazelton, who was living in Hollywood. The sheriff wired Hazelton and asked him if he could come to Enid to identify Booth. As Hazelton was unable to make the trip, he asked the sheriff to wire a description of the man’s right thumb, which was reportedly mangled. Upon receipt of this information, Hazelton wired the sheriff that the man in questions was, indeed, John Wilkes Booth.

Death certificate of Joseph Hazelton (click on image to enlarge)

On Saturday, October 3, 1936, Hazelton was working at Warner Bros. Studio when he suddenly became ill and was rushed to St. Vincent’s Hospital. The following Friday, October 9, he died from pneumonia at age 83. Hazelton had no survivors and his funeral was handled by the Motion Picture Relief Fund through Pierce Brothers mortuary; Hazelton was interred at Hollywood Cemetery (now Hollywood Forever) in an unmarked grave.

The unmarked grave of Joseph Hazelton located in the Garden of Beginnings (Section 2), grave 441.

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Hollywood’s “Jinx Mansion”

Monday, October 22nd, 2018

 

At this time of year our thoughts are on ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night. Bad luck and superstition has followed Hollywood and those who lived and worked there long before the film people arrived.

A house that had its share of bad luck and tragedy was built on the northeast corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Fuller Street more than 100 years ago. Gossip columnist, Louella Parsons, called the home that once stood at 7269 Hollywood Boulevard, “the jinx mansion.” Over the twenty-five years of its existence, it was home to a grocery store founder, a meat packing heir and a Hollywood film producer and his movie star wife. All experienced misfortune and heartbreak during their stay there.

The builder and first resident of the “jinx mansion” was George A. Ralphs, the founder of Ralph’s grocery store, the largest food retailer in Southern California. Every Angelino has shopped at a Ralphs at one time or another.

George Albert Ralphs was born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1850. His family moved to California on a prairie schooner and a yoke of oxen when he was a boy. In Kansas, they joined a caravan and upon reaching Colorado, they were attacked by Indians. Half of the caravan became separated in the fight and no word was ever heard from them again. It was presumed that they were massacred.

The remaining caravan arrived in Los Angeles after eighteen months of travel. Once he was settled, George Ralphs was trained as an expert bricklayer. After losing an arm in an accident, he gave up bricklaying and found work as a clerk in a small grocery store. In 1873, he had saved enough money to purchase his own grocery at Sixth and Spring Streets. From then on, Ralphs prospered, operating three of the largest stores in Los Angeles.

In 1897, Ralphs married Wallula von Keith and together they had two children: Albert and Annabel. In May 1913, Ralphs began construction on a new house on a three-acre lot in Hollywood that he reportedly bought from George Dunlap, the town’s second mayor.

Located on the north side of Hollywood Boulevard at Fuller Street, architect Frank M. Tyler designed the Mission Revival house at a cost of $35,000. With a plastered exterior and a red clay tile roof, the house had sixteen rooms with three baths. The interior was richly furnished in oak and mahogany; onyx and tile mantels adorned the fireplaces. There was a tennis court on the property, and a swimming pool which was emptied often to water the citrus orchards.

The Ralphs mansion as it looked shortly after being constructed

On June 21, 1914, a few months after moving into the house, Ralphs took his family for a week-end outing to the San Bernardino Mountains near Lake Arrowhead. He had just gone up Waterman’s Canyon with his wife and children for an early morning stroll and, having walked a little faster than the others, sat on a boulder to wait for them to catch up.

As his wife approached, he moved over to allow her sit beside him when the boulder, weighing about three tons, gave way and rolled twenty feet down the canyon, carrying Ralphs with it. His leg was caught beneath the boulder and nearly torn from the socket. He was rushed to the Ramona Hospital (now Community Hospital of San Bernardino) where his leg was amputated. Ralphs came out of the anesthetic shortly after, and talked to his wife for a few minutes but he went into shock. George Ralphs died within the hour at 4:15 o’clock that afternoon.

Ralphs body was returned to his home in Hollywood where funeral services were held. The Ralphs grocery stores were closed that day in memory of their founder. After the service, Ralphs was buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

The grave of Ralph’s grocery store founder, George A. Ralphs at Evergreen Cemetery

Mrs. Ralphs remained in the Hollywood mansion for several years, sometimes living there, and at other times, renting it out to such well-known residents as Mira Hershey, owner of the Hollywood Hotel and to actor Douglas Fairbanks. On August 20, 1918, Mrs. Ralphs hosted a political garden party in honor of California Governor, William D. Stephens and as a fund raiser for the war effort.

However, the “jinx” continued.

In 1920, Mrs. Ralphs leased the mansion to John “Jack” P. Cudahy, the son of the millionaire meat-packer, Michael Cudahy. The town of Cudahy, California which is east of Los Angeles, was named for the family.

In 1899, Jack Cudahy married Edna Cowin, daughter of General John Clay Cowin of Omaha. They had four children, Edna, Marie, Anne and Michael. For a time, Cudahy was general manager of his father’s packing plant in Kansas City. While there, he and his wife became estranged after Cudahy attacked Jere Lillis, the president of the Western Exchange Bank, who he suspected of having an affair with his wife. They were divorced, but reconciled two years later and were remarried, living in Pasadena, California.

Cudahy, however, had his problems. In 1914, he was sued for $30,000 in damages after throwing a doctor’s wife against a table. After a stint in the army, Cudahy was given a medical discharge following a nervous breakdown. In 1919, he was sued by the Hotel Maryland for failure to pay a two-year hotel bill amounting to almost $10,000.

Shortly after moving into the Ralphs mansion, Cudahy was under a doctor’s care for an extremely nervous condition and for insomnia. In early April 1921, he disappeared for ten days and it was later learned that he had been living at the Rosslyn Hotel under a fictitious name. Previous to that he had spent three months in a sanatorium.

At the time, Cudahy was reportedly having financial problems. On April 19, 1921, he received a letter from a trust company in Chicago stating that they would not carry a loan unless his sister Clara would vouch for him. Later that night, Clara sent her brother a telegram briefly stating, “Sorry, but find it impossible to do what you ask.”

John Cudahy’s death certificate (click on image to enlarge)

The following morning, at about 10:30am, Cudahy went into his bathroom, retrieved his Winchester shotgun which he used for trap-shooting, and went to his bedroom. Edna claimed that he did not seem to be unusually despondent. At exactly 11:45am, Edna was in her dressing room when she heard a gun shot and rushed into her husband’s bedroom where she found him dead. He had committed suicide by blowing off the top of his head. John Cudahy was buried at Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles.

 

Edna and her children moved out of the house shortly after her husband’s suicide. Thirteen years later she was living in a mansion near Vine Street and Franklin Avenue in Hollywood. Actor Lou Tellegen, who had fallen on hard times, was living with her and committed suicide in his bathroom by stabbing himself in his heart seven times with a pair of scissors.

After Cudahy’s suicide, the mansion stood empty for about a year. In October 1922, Mrs. Ralphs sold the house and property to a local realty company for $150,000. They planned to demolish the house and build a 350 room apartment hotel at a cost of one million dollars. For unknown reasons, the hotel was never built and the mansion was spared.

Norma Talmadge and Joseph Schenck

Film producer, Joseph M. Schenck and his wife, actress Norma Talmadge, were the next owners of the “jinx mansion.” The Schenck’s, who were married in 1916, probably moved into the house in late 1922 or early 1923. For the first few years their lives were routine, at least for film people, with the exception of several break-ins in which Norma’s jewelry was stolen.

Gradually, the couple began to grow apart. They separated in 1927 and moved into separate residences; Norma to an elegant West Hollywood apartment building on Harper Avenue, and Schenck moved to a large house in Beverly Hills. They remained married, however, and kept ownership of the Hollywood Boulevard mansion.

In July 1930, Talmadge traveled to Europe for a rest amid rumors that they were getting divorced but the couple denied the rumors, each claiming they were still in love. The following year, Talmadge asked for a divorce and Schenck agreed but she never filed for it. In 1932, she asked again for a divorce and traveled to Europe, supposedly to get one, but once there, she denied the so-called rumors.

During 1932 alone, the Schenck divorce rumors were many and were announced and denied several times. In the meantime, she had an affair with comedian George Jessel until finally, in April 1934, Talmadge and Schenck were divorced in Juarez, Mexico. Three weeks later Norma married Jessel.

The Talmadge-Schenck home as it looked from Fuller Street in the 1920s

Above is the site from the same angle on Fuller Street as it looks today

During all of this, the Schenck’s kept the mansion, and may have rented it out but Schenck reportedly moved back after the divorce. In May 1936, Schenck redecorated the property, adding a two-story cabana and a 60-foot swimming pool that replaced the one installed by the Ralphs, which was filled in by the Cudahy’s.

Notice of Schenck auction (click on image to enlarge)

Bad luck continued to follow Schenck. In 1936, he agreed to pay a bribe to avoid strikes with the unions, but because he made the payoff with a personal check, it came to the attention of the IRS and he was eventually convicted of income tax evasion. In 1940, he finally sold the Hollywood Boulevard “jinx mansion” and all its furnishings in an auction, supposedly to help pay his legal fees. In 1946, Schenck spent time in prison before being granted a pardon by President Harry Truman.

After Schenck sold the mansion, it was razed to make way for Peyton Hall, the first apartment house to go up on Hollywood Boulevard west of La Brea. The colonial-style garden apartment complex included more than 70 apartments. A red carpet rolled all the way from the grand portico to Hollywood Boulevard. There were discreet private entrances and a loudspeaker on the grounds that summoned stars to the studios.

The architect and builders kept the 60-foot swimming pool that Joseph Schenck installed four years earlier and it was used by the residents, including Shelley Winters and Johnny Weissmuller, who once jumped from the roof into the deep end. Other celebrity residents at Peyton Hall included Susan Hayward, George Raft and Janet Gaynor. Cary Grant stayed there during World War II and Claudette Colbert actually owned the complex and sold it in 1946 for about $450,000 to the first of a succession of owners. In 1960, an investment group bought it for $790,000.

In 2013, Peter Chaconas, aka “MR PETE” (Best Host Emmy winner for KTLA, Channel 5 – 1990), who once lived in Peyton Hall, told Hollywoodland:

“I moved into Peyton Hall in 1976. Living there were Richard Guthrie (Days of our Lives), Dave Fleisher (brother of Max-both of Popeye cartoon fame), McLean Stevenson (M*A*S*H), Herman Hover (who had managed Ciro’s), Timothy Patrick Murphy (actor), and Bill Miller (the first Brad in the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Roxy on Sunset.

“We loved Peyton Hall. I lived in 3 units. A bachelor (just a room w/a bathroom), a studio apartment (with a full kitchen & great stainless steel counters), and a one bedroom-all at 7243 Hollywood Blvd.

“The long pool was amazing (next to the old maids quarters)… Four lanes with hand laid Italian tiles. There was a HUGE old carriage house that we used for parking. You entered from Fuller Street, and also some covered parking near the pool. The movie Eating Raoul was filmed in apartments there. 

“We went on a rent strike for 2 years, to try and save the building. We all deposited our rent into a bank account, and tried our best to lobby the city council to give Peyton Hall a landmark status. But, the land was bought by investors from Taiwan and we were all evicted. They gave us around $1,000 each, and three months to get out.

“We were all very proud to have lived there and really loved the fact that our building had SO much Hollywood history. I sat in my Mustang convertible on Hollywood Blvd and watched them tear down the apartments I had lived in. I should have taken pictures. Now an UGLY complex stands where once a beautiful garden apartment was a fantastic home to those who loved Hollywood. RIP Peyton Hall… We did love you.”

Beginning in 1978, preservationists waged a two-year battle to save the landmark complex –but to no avail. Peyton Hall was demolished in the early 1980s and the recently renamed, Vantage Apartments (formerly the Serravella) was built in 1988 and remains there today.

The Vantage Apartments above is the site of the
Ralphs-Cudahy-Schenck-Talmadge mansion and Peyton Hall

Whether you believe in the “jinx mansion” or not is up to the reader—but it makes an interesting story. If you happen be in the neighborhood of the 7200 block of Hollywood Boulevard on Halloween night, do so at your own risk.

 

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Valentino’s “Son of the Sheik”

Saturday, October 20th, 2018

 

Famous Players Orchestra Presents:

Rudolph Valentino’s

The Son of the Sheik

November 3, 2018 @ 7:00 p.m. in Burbank!!!

 

Famous Players Orchestra will present The Son of the Sheik (1926) starring Rudolph Valentino and Vilma Bánky.

Featuring a period score performed live by The Famous Players Orchestra under the direction of Scott Lasky.

Program introduced by film historian, Stan Taffel.

For tickets, click HERE

Christ Lutheran Church

2400 West Burbank Blvd.

Burbank, CA 91506

Showtime is 7:00 p.m.

 

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Showing this year ay Cinecon 54

Sunday, August 26th, 2018

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For more information about Cinecon, please click HERE

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Beatrice Dominguez: Valentino’s “La Bella Sevilla”

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

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She was a vamp. With Spanish mantillas and high combs, and dancing to the sounds of a strumming guitar, she endeared herself to those she entertained. She was born Beatriz Dominguez on September 6, 1896, in San Bernardino, California. Descended from an old California Spanish family, a race of dons, her lineage can be traced back to old Castile who had been Americans for generations. Like her three older sisters, Beatriz was educated at Sacred Heart Convent, and like her younger sister Inez, she appeared in a few short films, but unlike Inez, she liked the medium. Her family, however, wanted her to be a doctor or lawyer; there had been no theatrical people or dancers in their ancestry. But dancing was in her blood. Her mother Petra, was born in Sevilla and never had a dancing lesson, yet she simply danced. Beatriz learned to dance from her. “You see,” Beatriz said, “Spanish dances are all symbolical.” And from her, too, she inherited the priceless mantillas, combs, jewelry and embroidered shawls that she wore.

In 1915 and 1916, Beatriz danced her way into fame when she appeared at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Diego. Billed simply as “La Bella Sevilla,” she lent the old Castilian touch to the air of the place.  To the click of castanets and a swirl of silken skirts, through an open archway she danced to the tune of the classic La Jota, black eyes snapping as the applause of the expositions throng bought in more crowds. When Theodore Roosevelt saw her dance, he called her “California’s sweetheart — fairest dancing daughter of the dons.”  .

While performing in San Diego, she had an uncredited role in the Douglas Fairbanks film, The Americano (1916). After the exposition, Beatrice returned to dancing in vaudeville.

“After I left San Diego,” Beatriz recalled, “and had danced at the Mission Inn in Riverside—I wished to act. I called at some of the studios and did not say that I was the premiere dancer at Balboa Park (San Diego). I simply registered as ‘La Bella Sevilla.’ Mr. O. H Davis, who was a vice-president of the Exposition, was appointed general manager of Universal. One day, when I called there, he suggested that I use my own name, because directors were rather afraid to employ a dancer because they reasoned that she could not act. I was baptized ‘Beatriz,’ but at the studios they have turned that into the American ‘Beatrice.’”

The newly rechristened ‘Beatrice,’ returned to films in 1919 in a small role in the Rex Ingram picture, The Day She Paid (1919) followed by another Ingram film, Under Crimson Skies (1920). Carl Laemmle saw her and considered her “an exceptional motion picture type” and gave her a part in The Fire Cat (1921) at Universal. Beatrice became one of the first Hispanic actresses to receive screen billing and to be mentioned in the press. Then, the film that she would be remembered for was offered to her. “Beatrice Dominguez, a Spanish dancer, has been engaged to play in the Metro production of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which Rex Ingram is directing,” the local trade papers announced. The film starred the relative newcomer, Rudolph Valentino and his dancing the Tango with Beatrice glamorized the dance and gave him instant celebrity.

Beatrice Dominguez’s death certificate (click on image to enlarge)

In December 1920, Beatrice appeared in the prologue to The Mark of Zorro starring Douglas Fairbanks during its seven week run at the Mission Theater.

In February, she was filming The White Horseman (1921) with Art Acord when she collapsed with a ruptured appendix; she was rushed to the Clara Barton Hospital at 447 South Olive Street. Doctors believed she would recover, but as with Valentino five years later, peritonitis set in; a second operation was necessary. She died from the complications of the operation on February 27, 1921. She was 24. One week later, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse opened in New York City to rave reviews and made Rudolph Valentino a star, in part because of the Tango scene with Beatrice. .

The home of Beatrice Dominguez at 2522 Elsinore Street in Los Angeles where her funeral was held. (PLEASE NOTE: This is a private home. Please do not disturb the residents) (click image to enlarge)

Beatrice’s funeral was held at her home at 2522 Elsinore Street, where she lived with her mother and sister Inez. The funeral mass was held at the Plaza Church in old Los Angeles with burial at Calvary Cemetery. .

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(click on image to enlarge)

At the time of her death, her role in The White Horseman was not yet completed, so they had to find a way to write her out of the remainder of the film. Her purpose in the film was to find a treasure. The director brought in a stand-in, of about the same height, dressed her in Beatrice’s costume and had her walk into the scene with her back to the camera and announce that she was called back to her home. She entrusted her mission to another, who was then responsible to find the treasure. Just before her death, she was signed to play the role of a Hindu girl in an adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling story, Without Benefit of Clergy at the Brunton Studios (now Paramount).

 

The 91st Annual Rudolph Valentino Memorial is coming up on Thursday, August 23, 2018 at 12:10 p.m. in the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Be there. To learn more about the history of the Valentino Memorial, read the book, Valentino Forever: The History of the Valentino Memorial Service by Tracy Ryan Terhune.

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Valentino’s Lady in Black legend grows

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

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One of the legends that developed after the death of silent screen idol Rudolph Valentino, was about the mysterious Lady in Black. Many have claimed to be her and others have donned the black veil and dress in their memory over the past ninety-one years. Just a few that have laid claim or have been credited to the legend are Pola Negri, Marion Benda, Jean Acker, Estrellita del Regil and her mother Anna, and the one who is most accepted to be the original Lady in Black, Ditra Flame.

Another woman who has a claim on the legend is one that most Valentino fans probably have never heard of. Her name is Florence Harrison. Florence’s story is as mysterious as the woman she was alleged to be.

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Harrison’s claim to the title was not known until several years after her death and was made by her son. This is what is known. Several years ago, a copy of the book, Valentino As I Knew Him, written by the actor’s friend and manager, S. George Ullman, surfaced with the following inscription:

“In loving memory of Rodolpho Valentino and my beautiful mother, Florence Marie Rittenhouse (Marie Valentino) who died in Los Angeles of cancer on March 7, 1947. May my beautiful mother and the beautiful memory of her that I will cherish to my grave and Valentino, may they both rest in peace in each other’s arms! My mother was the original ‘Woman in Black’ and quit when others tried to copy her and make a cheap publicity stunt out of it. T. G. (Tony Guglielmi).”

Florence Marie Rittenhouse was born in Pennsylvania in 1900 to Charles and Lillian (Shuman) Rittenhouse. A professional pianist, Florence married Samuel Harrison and moved to Washington D.C. There the Harrison’s had three children: Warren, Thelma and David. One day in 1934, according to family lore, Florence and her eleven year-old son David, left Washington and moved to California, never seeing her family again. Nothing more is known about Florence until her death from breast cancer on March 7, 1947 at the County General Hospital in Los Angeles. Florence’s remains were returned to Washington D.C. for burial at Cedar Hill Cemetery.

Florence Harrison’s death certificate (click on image to enlarge)

As for David, he enlisted in the Army in 1942. The family claims that he had mental health problems and apparently was not able to live on his own. Were his problems a result of his stint in the Army, since they would never have inducted him if those problems were present.

 

The Tony Guglielmi (Guglielmi was Valentino’s birth name) that signed the book was most likely Florence’s son, David Harrison, but why would he sign it that way? By calling her “Marie Valentino,” was he implying that his mother was married to the actor? Did David, who was born in 1923, believe that he was Valentino’s son? Was Florence one of the many anonymous Lady’s in Black that appeared at Valentino’s memorial over the years? Or were these the wild delusions of a mentally disturbed young man? All we have is a brief inscription on the title page of a Rudolph Valentino biography, so unfortunately we may never know. Florence Harrison is one more name added to the already crowded legend.

The 91st Annual Rudolph Valentino Memorial is coming up on Thursday, August 23, 2018 at 12:10 p.m. in the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Be there. To learn more about the history of the Valentino Memorial, read the book, Valentino Forever: The History of the Valentino Memorial Service by Tracy Ryan Terhune.


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Can Gable be another Valentino?

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

Latest gift to womenkind dissected

By Harry Carr, Los Angeles Times

August 2, 1931

 

Have the movies found in Clark Gable another Valentino? Every time Gable appears on the screen, an electric shock runs through all the female hearts for miles around. Women are mad about him.

His fan mail looks—for bulk—like the letters to the A.E.F. in France. Letters passionate, adoring, swimming with emotion. But he will never be another Rudolph Valentino.

Valentino had something that Gable hasn’t. No other actor had ever appeared who had what Valentino had. It is a quality hard to describe.

Had he been a woman, I should have said that he stood for the universal Earth-Mother. He was the most fascinating of all characters—the primitive man with a veneer of top hats and shining shirts.

Valentino was more primitive in his heart than our old roughneck friend Bull Montana. He was graceful, charming, finished in his manners—yet he was absolutely primitive. He was the mating call.

He was the warm earth opening its heart to the sun in springtime. He was the cave man dressed up. His instincts were those of childhood.

I remember sitting one night with Mrs. Valentino in their home on Whitley Heights. It was a wild revel of artistic direction—floors of black marble with scarlet cushions on a divan that belonged in the last days of the Imperial Rome. We were looking at Rudy who sat across the room. He was talking to Gloria Swanson. He was graceful, winning—charming.

“Just a primitive child,” said Mrs. Valentino, with half-cynical amusement. “What he would like to be doing is repairing a carburetor on an automobile—or playing with his tallan bulldogs. Do you see the point? And did she?

He liked to touch power. He liked to feel that he could control the great finished engine of steel; he liked to fee the giant strength of those fierce beasts. He liked to realize that they loved him; that he could wrestle and rough-house and punish them, but that they would tear anyone else to bleeding shreds.

Just so he liked to wrestle, to ride Arab stallions. He liked the fierce sun of the desert; the last of the storm.

Rudy had a romantic swagger—a flaming color—an appeal that made women fight like tigers for places on the sidewalk when he passed because they felt instinctively that in his heart he was the age-old call of the man to the woman.

Rudolph was the adored lover of all womankind, yet he was not what you would call a ladies man. He had very few sweethearts—a fact of which he sometimes complained in a most plaintive manner. The truth is, Rudolph was not very interesting to most women when they came to actually meet him. Men, on the other hand, bitterly resented him until they got to know him. Then they liked him.

There ws something honest and appealing in Valentino’s struggle that appealed to men. Even in the greatest days he was always a well-meaning guy having a tough time. Sensitive, bruised, misunderstood, Valentino sorrowed over the fact that men resented his hold over women. He resented the resentment of boys who didn’t like when their girl friends sat with a mysterious light in their glowing eyes, and a transfixed expression of surrender to the dashing young man on the screen.

Gable is a dashing fellow. But he will never be the overwhelming lady-charmer that Valentino was. He knows too well what it is all about.

Valentino didn’t. He was always a mystery to himself. Women adored the little-boy hidden in Rudy. Gable is strictly grown-up. He lacks the appealing innocence of Valentino. There is nothing in him that cries out for help to a female heart. And Valentino cried out.

In soul essence, he was the child hero Romulus—waiting to achieve might deeds—to found Rome—to rear nations—to rack out a new world—but temporarily very much in need of a mother.

Please plan to attend the 91st Annual Rudolph Valentino Memorial on Thursday, August 23, 2018 beginning at 12:10 p.m. at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica, Blvd., Hollywood.

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Booksigning at Egyptian/American Cinematheque

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

Allan Ellenberger Miriam Hopkins Talk

The Egyptian Theater, 6712 Hollywood Blvd.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

2:00 pm to 5:00 pm

Design for Living begins at approximately 3:30 PM.

This Art Deco Society program begins with an illustrated presentation by author and historian Allan Ellenberger on the life and career of actress Miriam Hopkins, followed by the Ernst Lubitsch comedy classic DESIGN FOR LIVING, in which she shares an apartment with lovestruck Fredric March and Gary Cooper.

Allan R. Ellenberger will sign copies of his new book Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel, in the lobby before the film.

Larry Edmunds will be on site to sell books.

Co-presented by the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles
Join us for an illustrated presentation by Hollywood historian Allan Ellenberger on the life and work of actress Miriam Hopkins, whose 40-year career began in the pre-Code era and included three films with legendary comedy director Ernst Lubitsch.

35 mm!
DESIGN FOR LIVING
1933, Universal, 91 min, USA, Dir: Ernst Lubitsch
Playwright Tom Chambers (Fredric March) and painter George Curtis (Gary Cooper) share an apartment in Paris and both fall for lovely interior designer Gilda Farrell (Miriam Hopkins). Gilda can’t make up her mind which man she loves, so she concocts a scheme for the three of them to live together platonically. Of course it’s not long before the two men are figuratively clawing at each other’s throats in this pre-Code delight from director Ernst Lubitsch and screenwriter Ben Hecht, based on Noel Coward’s play.

For details and updates: American Cinematheque

 

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