Archive for the ‘Book/Film News’ Category

Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel

Friday, July 21st, 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

In the summer of 1957, Miriam Hopkins was touring in the stage version of The Old Maid, her 1939 hit with Bette Davis. This time around, she played the title role, and her old friend and former Paramount star, Sylvia Sidney, played her cousin, Delia. For their entire careers, these two ladies had an on-again, off-again relationship. “Sylvia was also bigger than life,” recalled a mutual friend, “so you had these two former screen stars with lots of ego. Sylvia would recount stories of things that Miriam did, or did not do.

“Onetime, Miriam tried to thank Sylvia for something, so she sent over a half a case of champagne to Sylvia’s dressing room, which infuriated her because it was strange to only send half a case— ‘Why didn’t she send the whole case?’ Sylvia complained. But this was Miriam’s idiosyncrasies, about her life and everything else.”

Also in the play was Miriam’s niece, 23-year-old Margot Welch, who made her acting debut as Tina, the “old maid’s” illegitimate daughter. “I don’t remember much about The Old Maid, it was so long ago,” Margot recalled. “I got my part through Ben Starbach, a stage manager and a friend of Miriam’s and of Ron Rawson, who ran the John Drew Theatre. Ben had no children and took me under his wing when I started out. Mr. Rawson must have been shocked when I showed up for my audition. I have auburn hair, but he liked my reading and decided to take a chance on me. Both Ben and mom came up to cue Miriam as her part was huge. She’d been persuaded to take the Bette Davis role from the film, while Sylvia Sidney played her old part of Delia. Miriam also helped with the directing, so we hardly saw her.”

Miriam was eager for Margot to succeed, inundating her with advice, almost to distraction. The director had to step in and forbid Miriam from talking to her niece during rehearsals. Even so, when Margot was reciting her dialogue on stage, Miriam would stand in the wings and mouth her lines, which intimidated the young actress.

Please follow and like us:

A visit to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in 1930

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

mgm6

A short sixteen years earlier, in 1914, the land was a bare, sandy waste of land. In 1930, the Metro-Goldwyn Mayer studios were valued at $25,000,000.

In 1914 a real estate man sat in his office. He owned hundreds of acres of land on the outskirts of Los Angeles and was confronted with the problem of selling them. As it lay, that tract of land was far from pleasing to the eye which increased the problem of selling it.

Something had to be done to draw attention to the locations, to give it a glamour which would entice home-seekers. The real estate man decided to forget those acres for the afternoon and go to a movie. But as he was leaving he stopped—Movies! Motion pictures. A studio. Workmen would need land for homes.

Thomas Ince, then a big mogul in motion pictures, was called and offered the land to build a studio. Where?” Ince asked.

Culver City,” replied the real estate man.

So out to the sanded wastes went Thomas Ince. He built one rickety stage which passed for a studio and began making Western pictures. Ince’s once rickety stage had grown to be three large glassed-in studios. A few years later, Samuel Goldwyn, coming west, bought the works; stages, land and all that went with them. The romance of motion pictures and the studio which eventually became Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer were under way.

Under the Goldwyn regime at that studio Will Rogers first came to pictures. Also there was Pauline Frederick, who was one of the most beautiful actresses of her day. Helen Chadwick, Naomi Childers, Sydney Ainsworth, Madge Kennedy, Mabel Normand, Jack Pickford, Tom Moore and Geraldine Farrar, at that time the “Carmen” of them all. These and many more laughed and cried their way in and out of that old studio. Most are but faint memories today.

Rupert Hughes, Rex Beach, Gouverneur Morris, Gertrude Atherton—writers which in their day were as big as any in their game—all saw service at that old Goldwyn studio. It was a training ground for the best.

In 1924, Metro Studios and Louis B. Mayer joined hands with Goldwyn and the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer organization and studio was born. It grew into a fairy city. .

There were twenty-two complete sound stages. Two of these were monstrous things of steel and concrete. One contained a complete theater, the largest hippodrome stage west of New York City, for theatrical spectacles in films. The stage in the theater was eighty feet long, eighty feet wide and eighty feet high. It had every modern device invented. This is what you see in MGM pictures whenever theatrical sequences are shown.

Another stage, the largest in existence, one hundred feet wide and two hundred and fifty feet long, was a steel and glass semi-enclosed building for extra large exterior scenes, such as those shown in The Trail of ’98. The rest were ordinary, huge steel and wood stages made soundproof by being lined with a composition. .

In these studios daily could be seen John Gilbert, Norma Shearer, William Haines, Marion Davies, Ramon Novarro, Greta Garbo, Lon Chaney, Joan Crawford and a host of less famous players who were battling their way to stardom.

A group of concrete buildings were to the left as you entered the main gate. The first three-story building was the one housing the executives. Irving Thalberg was one of them. Louis B. Mayer was another.

Next there was a three-story concrete wardrobe building. In it were tailor and dressmaking shops, designers’ offices and storage space for the more and 10,000 dresses and costumes MGM kept on hand ready for a moment’s call. With Adrian and David Cox designing them, and “Mother” Coulter supervising the making of them, some famous costumes and styles went out to the world from this building.

Just past the wardrobe was the publicity building and casting office. That small office was where so many came daily only to be told, “Sorry, nothing for you today.” Directly across from the publicity building was the commissary; a complete restaurant with dining room, lunch counters and soda fountain. It was run on a non-profit basis, being strictly for the convenience of the studio employees, the stars, extras, cameramen and directors. For years the minimum number of meals which were served there in any one day—except Sundays—was one thousand. And as many as seven thousand were fed in one day during heavy production. It was here that Louis B. Mayer entertained the entire studio at a turkey dinner each year during the Christmas holidays. Never had he had less than 2,500 guests. In addition, the commissary had its own ice and carbonating plant. .

Karl Dane and Gwen Lee point out the studios schedule.

Director’s Row was two stories and ran from one side of the commissary. Here sat Robert Leonard, Sam Wood, Jack Conway, Harry Beaumont and other directors. Around the corner was the fan-mail department. Seven clerks handled an average of 38,000 letters a month addressed to the stars. They were in reality a miniature post office staff, sorting the letters and seeing that each star gets his sack-full every day. It was these men who addressed and sent pictures of the players to those who requested them.

Strolling further about the fifty-three acre lot were stages back-to-back, stages stuck off in corners, and sets all over the place. There was a building for music and dance rehearsals; a recording building where the voices were recorded. Next a camera building and near it the projection rooms, where daily the “rushes” were viewed.

Nearby was the big electrical building. The MGM studio used 2,500,000 kilowatts of juice a year. It had a “connected load” of 35,000 horsepower—more than enough to light a city the size of Reno, Nevada. .

Bungalow of the Stars

Around the corner of a stage were bungalows which nestled into the ground and looked like dream houses. They belonged to the stars. Then the make-up department, a little schoolhouse for child actors and more sets.

More than 3,000,000 feet of lumber a year was used in building sets; 15,000 gallons of paint; 250 tons of plaster; 4,000 sacks of cement; 15,000 tons of rock; 600 bales of plaster fiber, and 300,000 feet of wallboard. These were for the building of sets only and did not include the materials used to build stages and buildings.

The telephone system at MGM was a 1200-unit central switchboard. It was more than enough to adequately serve a city of 3,000 people. .

mgm7

In 1930, out of the 120 buildings and its 2,500 employees, 50,000,000 feet of film was used for the output of motion pictures that was sent to theaters. In any event, it was a far cry from the dinky, rickety one stage that Thomas Ince first erected, to the ten thousand people who were on the lot at one time during the shooting of Ben-Hur (1926). In 1930, Culver City boasted 13,000 as her population. That real estate agent—Harry Culver—was now a multimillionaire.

Please follow and like us:

Lupe Velez birthday

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

Lupe Velez (July 18, 1908, San Luis Potosi, Mexico)

Please follow and like us:

The life of Thomas Smith Robson; an adventurer, practical joker and low class Bohemian

Friday, July 14th, 2017

By Allan R. Ellenberger

Thomas Smith Robson, the scion of a great English family, was the son of Robert Robson, Esq., Newcastle-on-Tyne, and Emily Jane Snowden. His brother, William Snowden Robson, was an English lawyer, judge and liberal politician and a Member of Parliament. There was no similarity between these brothers: while Thomas was a jolly, roistering, and mad-cap fellow, his brother William was the personification of English respectability. Both brothers were born at 26 Eaton Square, a somber but eminently aristocratic square of London.

In his early life, Robson earned a PhD at Heidelberg, Oxford and other institutions. He was an expert chemist, man of letters, a thorough student of law, and an expert linguist of several European languages. Robson possessed a splendid physique, lived only at night, and slept during the day. When he wanted an evening alone, he would order a dozen quarts of Riesling wine, and drink the entire batch before the sun rose. He eventually became an embarrassment, dimming the dignity of his family traditions, and was sent on his way.

In 1890, he arrived in Denver with fourteen trunks and a desire to do something unusual. Accordingly, he took up with an infamous army officer whose only asset was his military title. Breaking ties with his family, he spent his last cent getting to Montreal, where he and the officer bluffed their way into the most fashionable hotel on the officer’s signature. From there, they became reporters on the Montreal Star until they were found out and were driven from the town.

Robson then went to Boston and was hired as a waiter in a 10-cent lodging house. Evidently this was not strenuous enough, so he hitch-hiked to Roxbury in mid-winter, eating only green apples for ten days. He then met a wealthy New Yorker, who attempted to make him a general agent of a big colonization scheme. However, Robson would rather starve than work for another man, so he became a stove tinker, making his way to Montana on a stock train. On the way, he was taken care of by an actor who owned a large stock farm; he promised to give Robson a good salaried job for as long as he wanted it. Five miles before reaching the farm, Robson changed his mind and jumped off the train; away from the actor permanently.

Robson traveled to Northern California and stirred up a band of Indians living on a reservation, to do wild deeds; he stayed with them for many months. His next stop was San Francisco, but he remained there only a short time. In 1896, he jumped on a train for Los Angeles. There he met J.R. Carson, who ran the Old Curiosity Shop on North Main Street, Carson persuaded Robson to write home to his family. He did, and discovered that his father was dead, and that he and his brother shared the estate. He was not interested in money except for the good he could do with it, and the trouble he could stir up.

With his inheritance, he booked a suite at the Van Nuys Hotel, but then he rented a 25-cent room in a lodging house where he would sleep. He made a bet with friends that he could escort one of the most notorious women in the city to one of the best hotels. He won his bet by bribing the clerk with a hatful of money. A quick trip to San Francisco followed, and there he sent out invitations to his former cohorts, a collection of loafers and loungers that he treated to a royal banquet at the Poodle Dog, San Francisco’s first and most famous French restaurant. On the way back to his apartment, he lay down in a mud puddle in his evening clothes, defied the police and stopped traffic. A wrecking car crew, and a wagon load of officers put him to bed.

Returning to Los Angeles, Robson found that a sewer trench was open on Main Street, and as a practical joke, he hired a gang of men to fill it up in the middle of the night. Then he engaged several undertakers, and had horses and lines of funeral coaches sit outside a friend’s house all day. Another time, about a hundred boys rushed into a busy drug store in response to a fake advertisement Robson had enlisted in the newspaper.

Finally, bored with his antics, he started for England. Stopping at New York, he bought a hand organ and a monkey from an Italian street musician, and performed up and down Fifth Avenue until he was arrested and put in jail. In Paris, he threw gold around the streets, and gave away money to every homeless person he could find. One day, when someone gave him a bad Franc, he became angry. So to show his disdain, he emptied all his money down a sewer and was left penniless. Once he replenished his supply of money, he attempted a “scientific demonstration” of the insidious effects of constant absinthe drinking, and informed his friends that he was now engaged in a work that would benefit humanity. This experiment resulted in his being locked up in a private asylum.

Going to London, his brother William was not pleased to see him; his antics were not those of a dignified Member of Parliament. But Robson was offended by a speech his brother made, so he left for Venice. There, he tried to organize the gondoliers into two factions; soon they were insulting and fighting each other before fleeing in the middle of the night. Returning to Paris, he remained there for a year or two.

Finally, he returned to Los Angeles. He was in ill health and asked Benjamin Balmer for help. Balmer took him into his home and cared for him. Robson allegedly settled down except for an occasional night of his own when he would lock himself in his room and drink. However, he kept clear of trouble and the police.

Balmer claimed that Robson had unclean habits and was frequently intoxicated. In spite of this, Robson was well cared for by the Balmer family, and Mrs. Balmer would serve as a nurse for him. For the last two years of his life, he was a broken man and scarcely able to help himself. On January 12, 1904, Thomas Smith Robson died at the Balmer home at 465 Bixel Street. He was 49 years old.

Robson’s body was buried in the Chandler Gardens section at what is now Hollywood Forever Cemetery. A large granite cross was placed on his grave.

The inscription:

“Sacred to the Memory of Thomas Smith Robson PhD (Heid) Youngest Son of R. Robson Esq. J.P. of New Castle Upon Tyne England. He Died at Los Angeles on 12th January 1904 Aged 49 Years. The Dead Shall Be Raised Incorruptible And We Shall All Be Changed.”

Robson left a considerable estate valued at about $50,000 in England, personal property in California amounting to $9,490 and real estate valued at $3,450. Robson left his entire estate to his brother William in England. William hired an administrator in San Francisco to handle his brother’s estate. For the care and attention that the Balmer’s gave Robson, they asked for $4,000 from the administrator, and when they were refused, they brought suit. As a reward for his kindness toward Robson, Balmer was allowed $2,400 by the judge.

William Snowden Robson (1852-1918)

Note: Robson’s brother, William Snowdon Robson (1852-1918) was a Member of Parliament between 1885 and 1886. Robson married Catharine Burge, daughter of Charles Burge, of Portland Place, London in 1887. He was invested as a Queen’s Counsel in 1892. He again held the office of Member of Parliament between 1895 and 1910. In 1905, he was knighted and was appointed to the Privy Council. He was Solicitor General for England and Wales from 1905 to 1908, and Attorney General for England and Wales from 1908 to 1910 when he was made a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and a life peer with the title Baron Robson, of Jesmond in the County of Northumberland. He resigned as Lord of Appeal two years later. William Snowdon Robson died aged 66, at Telham Court, Battle, Sussex. In available biographies, there is no mention of his younger brother, Thomas Smith Robson.

Please follow and like us:

Richard Dix

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Richard Dix (1893-1949)

 

Please follow and like us:

Unsung Film Pioneer: William H. Clune; theater and film producer

Saturday, July 8th, 2017

William Henry Clune

..

By Allan R. Ellenberger

Film history is filled with many pioneering men and women, other than Griffith, DeMille and Chaplin. In fact, there are many that are little known or forgotten today. Hollywoodland will explore the lives of some of these great trailblazers. Today, we look at the life of William H. Clune. 

William Henry Clune was a pioneer motion-picture theater owner, whose name is associated with the early days of film production. Born in Hannibal, Missouri, on August 18, 1862, Clune came to California in 1887. His interest in railroading ceased with the successful termination of a real estate venture, which provided him with sufficient capital to enter the field to which he devoted himself—the motion picture industry.

Clune began with a film exchange in 1907 which distributed the films of the pioneer producers including the old Essanay, Edison, Biograph and others. While operating the exchange, he opened his first theater, a penny arcade on Main Street, in Los Angeles. This was followed by the building of Clune’s Theater on Fifth at Main Streets where the Rossyln Hotel now stands. His next venture was leasing the property on Broadway between Fifth Avenue, and Sixth Street, where he built Clune’s Broadway Theater. Then he took over the Clune’s Auditorium at Fifth and Olive Streets, later renamed the Philharmonic Auditorium. He also built Clune’s Pasadena Theater and Clune’s Santa Ana Theater. At one time, his chain included theaters in Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Bernardino, Santa Ana and San Diego. .

Clune’s Broadway Theater as it appeared in 1910. (Cinema Treasures)

.

Clune’s Broadway Theater (later called the Cameo), as it looked in 1999 (lapl)

.

Clune’s Auditorium, originally located at Olive and Fifth Streets
across from Pershing Square. It is now a parking lot.

Clune’s Pasadena Theater is believed to be the city’s first movie house. The building, no longer a theater, still shows the original name. (Hometown-Pasadena)

In 1913, Clune and his wife Agnes sold their Pasadena mansion at 1203 Fair Oaks Avenue at the corner Monterey Road. The site is now a Pavilions grocery market. At this time, Clune separated from his wife and moved into an apartment at the Los Angeles Athletic Club at 431 West 7th Street. Agnes and their son James took up residence in another mansion at 314 South New Hampshire Avenue.

In 1915, Clune assumed control of Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players Studios on Melrose. On the property, Clune built rental studios for lease to independent production companies. ..

Clune’s Studio on Melrose (now Raleigh Studios).

At this studio, Clune produced and filmed Ramona (1916), the famous book dealing with early California life. Following that, Clune made other films including The Eyes of the World (1917) from the story of Harold Bell Wright.

William Clune stood out in motion picture production. In his room on the twelfth floor of the Los Angeles Athletic Club, many of the largest movie deals made were negotiated. Clune had faith in D.W. Griffith, and backed the director financially and agreed to exhibit The Clansman, which was later retitled The Birth of a Nation (1915) at Clune’s Auditorium where the world premiere was held.

As the executive head of a chain of screen houses, Clune was an active and shrewd showman. For a number of years, he fought an enforcement of old city ordinances prohibiting electric sign displays. City bureaus complained against Clune’s electrical advertisements, but Clune refused to budge from his determination to “light up Broadway.” ..

Clune liked to use electricity to “light up Broadway” much to the dismay of the city council..

In 1924, Clune retired from the theatrical business, having sold all his theaters and leased his studios on Melrose to the Tec-Art Company. Retirement from film production did not mean retirement from active business as he had acquired large holdings in downtown real estate, dating back to 1900, and had many other interests.

Shortly after noon on October 18, 1927, William H. Clune died of a stroke in his apartment at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. His body was taken to the Sunset Mortuary at 8814 Sunset Boulevard and he was interred in the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Cemetery..

William H. Clune’s crypt (no. 994) in the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

In addition to his other activities, Clune was on the regional board of the Bank of Italy, a member of the Brentwood Country Club, Jonathan Club and Elks Club.

Clune’s estate was bequeathed to his son James, the president of Clune’s holding company. Thought to be a millionaire several times over, yet few were able to estimate his actual fortune. His wife Agnes, according to his will, was not named but received her share of the estate by a property settlement years earlier. Publicly, the only estimate of the value of Clune’s estate at the time said that it “exceeds $10,000,” but most experts determined that it was close to $6 million which in today’s exchange would be around $81.5 million.

At the studios Clune owned on Melrose (across the street from Paramount), Douglas Fairbanks made The Mark of Zorro (1920) and The Three Musketeers (1921), Walt Disney rented space in the 1930s and the Hopalong Cassidy television series was filmed here, as were Superman. Robert Aldrich filmed Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Ronald Reagan hosted Death Valley Days. In 1979, the heirs of William Clune sold the film plant and it became Raleigh Studios. The studio that William Clune created is believed to be the oldest continuously operating film studio in Hollywood. ..

Raleigh Studios (the old Clune Studios) today…

 

Please follow and like us:

Ramon Novarro

Friday, July 7th, 2017

Ramon Novarro (1899-1968)

 

 

Please follow and like us:

Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel

Wednesday, July 5th, 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

Stage and film actress, Miriam Hopkins, enjoyed being remembered by the public and her fans, even as she aged. In the early 1950s, a New York cab driver somehow recognized her from her role as Champagne Ivy, the dance hall prostitute in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde which was released twenty years earlier. She was flattered that the cabbie remembered her, but it also depressed her. “You see, what they recall so vividly is that scene in which my legs hang over the side of the bed,” she sighed. “An actress spends a lifetime perfecting the art of acting and what do people remember? Dangling legs!”*

 

Please follow and like us:

Happy Fourth of July wishes from Joan Crawford

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

 

 

Please follow and like us:

The dream of sculptor Roger Noble Burnham

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017

Sculptor Roger Noble Burnham stands by his bust of horticulturalist Luther Burbank . (Los Angeles Public Library)

By Allan R. Ellenberger

The noted sculptor, Roger Noble Burnham, may not be a familiar name, but if you attended the University of Southern California, or are a fan of silent film star Rudolph Valentino, you are aware of his more famous works. Burnham created the well-known “Tommy Trojan,” the most popular unofficial mascot at USC. The following year, he was commissioned to create “Aspiration,” a memorial to the late Rudolph Valentino at Hollywood’s De Longpre Park.

Students gather around the base of the Tommy Trojan statue at USC in front of the Bovard Auditorium. The bronze plaque depicting Helen of Troy on the east side of the base is visible. (Los Angeles Public Library)

 

Burnham’s “Aspiration” — a tribute to silent film star Rudolph Valentino at De Longpre Park.

Other of Burnham’s works include the 12-foot bronze statue of Gen. MacArthur in McArthur Park; “The Spirit of ‘98” at the Los Angeles National Cemetery; the Scholarship Medal for the University of California, and he was a collaborator on the Astronomer’s Monument which  stands in front of the Griffith Observatory.

Memorial to General MacArthur. (By Jontintinjordan)

Burnham was born in Hingham, Massachusetts on August 8, 1876. With a Harvard degree in art history and architecture, he attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and toured with a theatrical company. Afterward, he studied sculpture with Caroline Hunt Rimmer, taught modeling at Harvard’s School of Architecture, and spent time in Rome and Hawaii before arriving moving to Los Angeles in 1925. There, he taught at Otis Art Institute until 1932. In addition, Burnham, a religious man, designed Christmas displays for the windows of a downtown department store.

But for all his works, two of his most beloved projects never were realized. One was to create a 160-foot “Neustra Senora, La Reina de Los Angeles,” that would overlook the city from the Hollywood hills. The other was to sculpture a colossal figure of Christ, to be sited above the Hollywood sign; it was entitled, “The Answer.”

The statue would depict a benevolent Christ with out swept arms and a gentle smile, standing 150 feet tall on a quarter-sphere 60 feet high—equivalent to a 19-story building. It would be finished in fused gold and cost about $250,000. To pay for his dream, Burnham spoke at local churches and planned to sell replicas of several sizes of his statue across the country. To envision his dream, in May 1951, the Los Angeles Times created a composite photo of the planned messianic statue.

Burnham’s vision for the total 210 foot “The Answer,” which he hoped would be placed on Mount Lee, overlooking Hollywood. The tower on the right is 300 feet tall and the letters of the Hollywood sign are 30 feet tall. (Los Angeles Times)

Sadly, for Burnham, his dream was never realized.

Roger Noble Burnham lived another decade and died in Los Angeles on March 14, 1962 at age 85.

 

Please follow and like us: