Archive for the ‘Hollywood History’ Category

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.

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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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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.

 

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A living memorial… at Hollywood High School

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

A living memorial to those who made the supreme sacrifice…

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Hollywood High School (1922)

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

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Armistice Day (now known as Veterans Day) was started in 1919 by President Wilson to celebrate the end of World War I on November 11, 1918. In 1922, Hollywood decided to celebrate the new holiday with a parade, a ceremony at the Hollywood American Legion Stadium, and a tree planting ceremony at Hollywood High School.

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On November 22, 1922, the parade, led by mounted police officers from the Hollywood Division, began at the corner of Hollywood and Highland, marched its way east, weaving through the streets of Hollywood before arriving at the American Legion Stadium on El Centro.

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At the stadium, the legionnaires and guests of the day were met by actor Walter Long, who was also commander of Hollywood Post 43. Long introduced fellow actor Bert Lytell, who served as Master of Ceremonies. Several war heroes were introduced, and their stories told to rounds of applause and the dispersion of gold medals.

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Before this all occurred, though, a tree was planted and dedicated on the grounds of Hollywood High School as a living memorial to those who made the supreme sacrifice. On the northwest corner of Sunset and Highland, people gathered as Dr. Frank Roudenbush, rector of St. Thomas Episcopal, delivered the dedicatory talk and invocation. On behalf of the school, A. B. Forster, acting principal, responded. The Hollywood Post band played, followed by a few words from Leonard Wilson, vice commander of the Post.

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It was a simple ceremony, which probably took no more than twenty minutes. But today, after almost a century, there is still evidence of that brief dedication service. There on that corner, just a few steps up from the busy sidewalk is a dedication plaque and a tree:

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However, there’s no way to know if this is the original dedication spot or the original tree. Hollywood High School has gone through many changes over the past one-hundred years including the 1933 earthquake that destroyed several of the original 1903 buildings including the one next to the tree. Could it have survived in its original spot for 92-plus years? Also, I’m not a tree expert, but does that tree look as if it could be that old? I’m not sure. Regardless of whether it’s the original spot or tree, it’s amazing—it’s a miracle—that the plaque survived all those years when there are several historical markers in Hollywood that have disappeared.

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The Story of the Lasky-DeMille Barn

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

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This month celebrates one-hundred years since director Cecil B. DeMille arrived in Los Angeles and rented a barn in the sleepy village of Hollywood to make The Squaw Man.

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

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Paramount Pictures traces its beginnings back to the founding of Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players Film Company on June 1, 1912. In 1916, Zukor merged his company with the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company, and with the Paramount Distributing Corp., a subsidiary. The new studio became Famous Players-Lasky Corporation and their films would be distributed under the Paramount name. In 1927 the organization was reorganized under the name Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation. In 1935, the Famous-Lasky name was dropped and the studio officially became Paramount Pictures.

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During Paramount’s acquisition of the Lasky Feature Play Company, the studio inherited an unpretentious, at least by Hollywood standards, wooden barn. The origins of that barn have had several incarnations. This is one version.

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In 1913, Jesse Lasky, a thirty-three year-old vaudeville producer, knew very little about films and how they were made. What he did know was that the fairly new entertainment medium was cutting into his stage show business. One day as Lasky and his partner, Cecil B. DeMille were going over the plans for the 1913-1914 Vaudeville season, DeMille dropped a bomb on his friend and partner.  DeMille was having problems living on his royalties and his debts were piling up, so he told Lasky he wanted to quit Broadway and go on an adventure. There was a revolution going on in Mexico and he thought about going there. Lasky did not want to lose his best friend so he blurted out an idea that another friend, Sam Goldfish (he later took the name Samuel Goldwyn) had been trying to interest him in—the movies.  Suddenly Lasky made a suggestion. “If you want adventure,” Lasky told him, “I’ve got an even better idea—let’s make some movies.”

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DeMille grabbed his hand and said, “Let’s.”

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“A portion of the motion-picture industry was built on that one word,” Lasky later said.

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From left: Jesse Lasky, Samuel Goldfish (Goldwyn) and Cecil B. DeMille

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But Lasky had one condition. He had seen a four-reel feature starring Sarah Bernhardt called Queen Elizabeth (1912) which Adolph Zukor of the Famous Players Film Company had imported from France for exhibition. If they were going to do this, he wanted to “do it in a big way and make a long picture like Queen Elizabeth.”

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After lunch they adjourned to the Lamb’s Club on West Forty-Fourth Street to discuss the details. At the club they ran into actor, Dustin Farnum and, while explaining their idea, asked him if he would star in a long feature they were going to produce. Looking around the room, Farnum saw Edwin Milton Royle the author of The Squaw Man. “You get Royle to sell you The Squaw Man and I might agree to join you,” Farnum told them.

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After some discussion, Royle was open to negotiating so Lasky called Goldfish and told him “they were in business.”

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The Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company was formed with Lasky as president, Goldfish the general manager, and DeMille would be the director-general. They each held a quarter of the stock and Farnum agreed to take the other quarter instead of receiving a salary. They paid $15,000 for the rights to The Squaw Man.

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At first they planned to film it Fort Lee, New Jersey, just across the river from New York, but Lasky didn’t think that would satisfy DeMille’s penchant for adventure, so he suggested they go to Flagstaff, Arizona where he knew there were real Indians. “It did not seem necessary for us to go to the then new Hollywood, so we looked at the map and selected Flagstaff, Arizona, as a pretty good name for our producing town,” Lasky said.  

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DeMille was agreeable but Farnum balked at the proposal. As long as he could live at home and work across the river he was willing to be paid off in stock, but if he had to travel across the country, he wanted his salary in cash. With the entire proposition on the verge of collapse, Lasky convinced his wife’s uncle and brother to invest and purchase Farnum’s stock. Reportedly, if Farnum had held onto the stock for eight years, he could have sold it for almost $2,000,000.

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The new producers hired a cameraman with his own camera and they engaged Oscar Apfel to help direct the production. Lasky and Goldfish remained in New York and attended to the sales and financial details as DeMille and Farnum took the train west.

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When DeMille finally arrived at Flagstaff, it was raining, so they boarded the train again and continued west to Hollywood. Once there, he sent a telegram to Lasky: “Flagstaff no good for our purpose,” DeMille wired, “Have proceeded to California. Want authority to rent barn in place called Hollywood for $75 a month. Regards to Sam. Cecil.”

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Goldfish was furious. Lasky defended DeMille’s decision even though he was not sure it was the right one. After arguing for hours they finally agreed to let the company stay in Hollywood. “Authorize you to rent barn but on month-to-month basis,” Lasky wired back, “Don’t make any long commitment. Regards. Jesse and Sam.”

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The barn that became their studio was located in a grove of orange and lemon trees on the southeast corner of Selma and Vine. Built in 1895, it was once a part of the estate of Colonel Robert Northam, whose mansion was located across the street where the Broadway building now stands. In 1904, Northam sold the estate to Jacob Stern, a realtor who, in March of that year, sold the barn to Harry Revier, a producer-director. In December 1913, Revier rented it to DeMille.

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Remodeling the barn into a studio to fit their needs began immediately. The horse stalls were removed and the space gained was transformed into a storage area for equipment the company hoped to buy. The carriage stand was turned into offices, a projection room and a primitive laboratory. The washing block was surrounded by walls and called a vault and the hay and feed section was made into an office, shared by DeMille and Lasky. A 30-foot square platform was built to adjoin the barn on the south side. This platform, the company’s first stage, was covered with a sail rigged to a mast, which could be adjusted to regulate sunlight.

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Shortly, DeMille wired Lasky that production was starting the next day. On December 29, 1913, DeMille ordered “camera” for the first scene of The Squaw Man. The excitement that the production was finally beginning convinced Lasky to come out to Hollywood.

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When Lasky arrived at the old Santa Fe Station, he told a taxi driver that he wanted to go to Hollywood. “He gave me a puzzled look,” Lasky recalled, “but said, ‘Get in boss—we’ll find it.’” After conferring with other drivers at the Alexandria Hotel, they found their way over dirt roads, past endless orchards and the occasional farmhouse until they came to the Hollywood Hotel. Lasky introduced himself to the clerk and made inquiries about the film company.

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“This is my first trip here and I’m not sure where our studio is located,” he told the clerk. “Would you please direct me?”

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“I’m sorry,” said the clerk, “I never heard of it.”

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“Perhaps I should have told you that the director-general of the company is Cecil B. DeMille,” Lasky stated.

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“Never heard of him,” the clerk said. Disappointed, Lasky was leaving when the clerk called him back.

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“Tell you who might help you,” he said. “Drive down this main road till you come to Vine Street. You can’t miss it—it’s a dirt road with a row of pepper trees right down the middle. Follow the pepper trees for about two blocks till you see an old barn. There’s some movie folks working there that might know where your company is.”

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When Lasky heard “barn” he knew he had the right place. He found the barn at Selma and Vine with a sign that identified it as the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company. When he opened the door he heard someone say: “There’s the chief.” Outside there was a two-ton Ford truck with the company’s name inscribed on its side. When DeMille saw him, he grabbed his hand and gathered the company around and gave a speech of welcome. Afterward he had a photographer take a photo of Lasky and the company against the truck.

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Cecil B. DeMille (right) directs a scene from “The Squaw Man”

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DeMille finished The Squaw Man in three weeks, and Oscar Apfel took over the one stage for his production of Brewster’s Millions (1914), another successful stage play. Edward Abeles, who had starred in the stage production, was brought to Hollywood for the film, which was followed by The Master Mind (1914) and The Only Son (1914).

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When The Squaw Man was released, Lasky received a telegram of congratulation from Adolph Zukor, then president of Famous Players. Lasky thought it was generous of him to do so and knew the value of the telegraphic dispatch so he asked Zukor’s permission to use his congratulatory message in their advertising.

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Further improvements were made on the barn and the studio lot. In May 1914, electrical illumination was used for the first time to augment sunlight, when tow spotlights arrived from the East and were used in the production of Steward Edward White’s story, The Call of the North (1914). Meanwhile, the studio was expanding. The platform attached to the barn was outgrown, and a larger, open-air stage was constructed. This received the title of Stage Number One, and when the end of this stage was glassed over, Stage Number One became the pride of the studio and the wonder of Hollywood. Sheds extending from the Selma Avenue side of the barn formed the cutting rooms, carpenter and paint shops, and the first dressing rooms were constructed.

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The first feature film to be made on this stage was DeMille’s Rose of the Rancho (1914). This picture marked a definite step forward in the life of the studio, for this was the first film which was shot, in part, on location away from the stages. At this period the first major influx of stars started. H.B. Warner, Max Figman, Theodore Roberts and Mabel Van Buren joined the Lasky forces. Dustin Farnum returned to the studio to star in the first film version of Owen Wister’s novel, The Virginian (1914), under DeMille’s direction. In the east, Marguerite Clark made her screen debut in The Goose Girl (1915).

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Stage Number One was inadequate to handle the expanding production of the studio and a barley field to the south was annexed and Stage Number Two, an exact replica of Number one, was constructed. Soon a third stage was built, and then a fourth.

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On June 28, 1916, the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company was merged with Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players organization, whose most important asset was Mary Pickford.  Zukor and Lasky combined forces and capital and purchased Paramount Pictures on July 19, 1916 and announced the formation of the $25 million Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, which included Paramount as its distributing channel. Zukor was elected president and Lasky was placed in charge of production.

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The Lasky Studios looking southeast from the corner of Selma and Vine.

The barn is on the far left of the photo.

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Within three years they acquired the entire block between Selma and Sunset on which the former barn was located. The barn was transformed into a small property room and the business offices were moved into a new administration building which extended practically the length of the entire block facing Vine Street. A new glass stage was erected 60 by 200 feet, and another glass stage of the same length. New carpenter and property construction shops were built 300 by 100 feet in size. The studio had extended its walls a full block.

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An aerial view of the Lasky lot (center)

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Further expansion continued and a vacant block on Argyle Street to the east was bought and was referred to as the “back yard,” containing fourteen garages and the street sets for outdoor filming. A new double deck paint frame was erected, eight times the size of the former paint frame, which at the time of its construction, was the largest on the Pacific Coast. Over 150 new dressing rooms were built for the stars, members of the organization and the extras. The studio also controlled the Morosco-Pallas Studios at Occidental and Council, and there, a new stage was built and the plant adjusted so that it could handle at least six companies.

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Beginning with a total staff of fifteen, just three years after The Squaw Man was completed the Lasky Company now had nearly a thousand on its weekly payroll. It had a complete printing plant on the grounds, which was used not only for printing sub-titles, but for preparing all stationary and the like. From having two automobiles, one of which was the personal property of Cecil B. DeMille, the Lasky Company now had fourteen cars, as well as three trucks. At the rear of the garages a complete machine shop was erected and all repairs were made by an expert mechanic and his crew. A concrete building was put up especially for the housing of transformers for the electricity for lights on the stages and the adjacent outdoor lot.

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A thousand-acre ranch near Burbank (now Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills) was acquired as a site for out-door action. It was on this ranch that the studio’s growing collection of horses, cow ponies and cattle were held.

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On the studio’s twelfth anniversary, about 200 stars and well-known film executives attended and gathered in the old barn, now referred to as the “little grey home in the West,” for the celebration on December 14, 1925. Those attending included Ethel Wales, who was a casting director, secretary and, when needed, a leading lady; Mabel Van Buren, James Neill, Theodore Roberts, Dustin Farnum and others. Lasky was presented with a bronze tablet which was placed on the spot where the old barn stood.

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A month later, Famous Players-Lasky purchased the United Studios a few blocks south on Melrose Avenue and Marathon Street, reportedly for $5 million. Lasky would move their operations from the old Sunset and Vine lot to the new studio on May 1, 1926. “Although our studio in Hollywood has long been considered the best equipped plant in the country,” Lasky said, “it is not big enough to take care of the productions which we have scheduled for this coming year. The United Studios has nine stages and its 26 acres will enable us to expand our activities to take care of the production program we have in mind.”

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At the time there were no plans on what to do with the old lot, but Lasky was sentimental about the old barn and the studios beginnings, so he had it picked up and trundled over to the new location. In addition, the window frame that he used to gaze out from was removed and placed in his new private office.

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Top: An aerial view of the new Paramount lot. Note at the top is

Hollywood Cemetery and the new Cathedral Mausoleum on the far right.

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On the new Paramount lot, the old barn served as the studio library and later as the gymnasium. It became part of the studio’s western set, and a porch and railroad tracks were added outside. It was later used as part of the Bonanza television series set.  On December 26, 1956, the barn was dedicated as California Historical Landmark No. 554.

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The dedication to declare the barn a California landmark. From left:

Samuel Goldwyn, Cecil B. DeMille, Jesse Lasky, Leo Carillo.

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The barn remained on the lot until October, 1979 when Paramount gave the barn to the Hollywood Historic Trust, a cultural heritage arm of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Until a decision could be made on what to do with the structure, it sat in the parking lot of Dennis Lidtke’s Palace, just north of Hollywood Boulevard on Vine Street. For the next three years it sat there becoming an eyesore to the community. Even though money was raised to restore the historic barn, there still was no permanent site to be found.

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When Jack Haley, Jr. wanted to film a television special at the Palace, he asked that the barn be moved. The Historic Trust offered to have the barn go to Universal, but preservationists knew it would become just another part of the studios tour. Eventually, Haley and Lidtke backed down on their request and the barn was allowed to stay until a site was found.

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The barn on the move.

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Meanwhile, Marion Gibbons, co-founder of Hollywood Heritage, and a board member of the Hollywood Chamber, proposed that her organization find the barn a permanent home. In May 1982, the Hollywood Historic Trust signed over the barn to Hollywood Heritage. They found a site on a grassy piece of land across from the Hollywood Bowl on Highland Avenue and signed the lease with the county on September 29 of that year. Gibbons and her volunteers finished painting the barn and getting it ready for removal from the Vine Street parking lot to the Bowl location. When completed, the barn was dedicated in December 1985 as The Hollywood Studio Museum.

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After a fire in September 1996, the museum remained closed until July 1999 when it was renamed the Hollywood Heritage Museum in the Lasky-DeMille Barn. When in Hollywood, be sure to visit the old barn where much of the early history of film took place. The museum is open from Wednesday to Sunday from noon until 4PM. For more information, visit their website at www.hollywoodheritage.org .

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Pia Zadora destroyed Pickfair because it was haunted

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

Pia Zadora confesses and admits a ghost made her destroy Pickfair

 

 

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

Remember Pickfair?

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It was the historic estate bought in 1919 by silent film actor, Douglas Fairbanks for his new bride, Mary Pickford, known to everyone as “America’s Sweetheart.” Pickfair had four stories, 25 rooms, stables and tennis courts. Doug and Mary lived there as husband and wife for the next seventeen years until their divorce in 1936. During that time they entertained heads of state, royalty and Hollywood royalty. Some of the world celebrities that visited Pickfair included George Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, H.G. Wells, Lord Mountbatten, Amelia Earhart, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Noel Coward, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor, Charles Lindbergh, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Edison, and The King and Queen of Siam.

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Pickford kept the house after the divorce and lived there with her third husband, actor Charles “Buddy” Rogers until her death in 1979. Afterward, the house stood vacant for a few years until it was sold to Los Angeles Lakers owner, Jerry Buss, who continued to update and care for the historic estate.

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In 1988, Pia Zadora, the even-then-so-called actress and singer, and her husband at the time, Meshulam Riklis, bought the home from Buss for $7 million. Two years later, Miss Zadora revealed that instead of renovating Pickfair, she had it razed and constructed a huge purported “Venetian style palazzo” in its place. Zadora was immediately criticized for destroying an irreplaceable part of Hollywood history, and rightly so. Defending herself, she claimed the house was allegedly in a run-down condition and was riddled with termites. When asked, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., said in a public statement: “I regret it very much. I wonder, if they were going to demolish it, why they bought it in the first place.”

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On a recent episode of the Biography Channel’s, Celebrity Ghost Stories, Zadora changed her story and claimed the real reason that Pickfair was destroyed was because the house was haunted.

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Zadora said in the interview that as soon as she and her family moved into the house, a female ghost appeared to her children at night and would frighten them. Within time, she too, saw the ghost—a woman dressed in 1920s attire who was always laughing (the ghost evidently watched her performance in The Lonely Lady). Zadora says that she did her own research (really?) and determined that the ghost was the mistress of Douglas Fairbanks, and the woman actually died on the estate. She doesn’t name the woman, say how the woman died or how she came to this conclusion.

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Zadora brought in an exorcist but that didn’t help and ghost continued to visit her. She decided the only thing to do was to level the house.

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“It was a difficult decision, but we had to live in it and we couldn’t live in it with what was going on,” Zadora says in the episode. “This is the first time I’m coming out publicly saying that termites weren’t the real reason we had to raze Pickfair. If I had a choice, I never would have torn down this old home. I loved this home. It had a history; it had a very important sense about it. You can deal with termites. You can deal with plumbing issues. But you can’t deal with the supernatural.”

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Pickfair–Then & Now  (squidoo)

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It’s not like people were dropping like flies at Pickfair so shouldn’t it be fairly easy to identify this laughing ghost? I’m not an expert on Pickfair but I don’t recall anyone dying there (if someone knows the answer, please post it here), not even Pickford, who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage there but died later at Santa Monica Hospital. Wouldn’t a death at Pickfair have made the newspapers unless it was covered-up by Fairbanks and Pickford? If so, how did Pia Zadora find out the “truth” in her so-called “research?” Once again, she doesn’t say how she came by that information in the interview, but producers of the show recreate a scene of her reading through books and paper.

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Pia Zadora will be criticized from all sides for this new revelation—first by those who don’t believe in the paranormal, and by those who do, who may question how razing a house will remove a spirit. While the paranormal interests me, again, I’m no expert, but wouldn’t the ghost just move in to the new house? All I know is that supposedly Pickfair is gone because of a ghost. I hope people don’t start using that excuse to destroy other Hollywood landmarks, if so preservation in this town will not have “a ghost of a chance.”

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The hotel that could have been…

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

The Hollywood-California, the hotel that could have been

 

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

Sometimes building projects get no farther than the drawing board—maybe even more so in Hollywood, the land of big dreams. In 1922, the Davenport Corporation announced the construction of a grand building enterprise for the film capitol—The Hollywood-California, a Class A hotel-apartment building to cost in the neighborhood of $3.5 million—a grand neighborhood for 1922.

 

Architect Harry H. Whitely was hired to complete the design. The site where the hotel would be constructed was comprised of an entire block of frontage on the north side of Hollywood Boulevard, between Bronson Avenue and Gower Street, which at the time was known as the Brokaw property. Today the historically significant, former nightclub, the Florentine Gardens, is located on part of that block.

 

The Hollywood-California Hotel was designed to contain 717 rooms and it was to be built in the shape of a cross, with four wings radiating from a central, octagonal shaped unit. The wings were so designed that each succeeding floor would be stepped back from the floor below, an arrangement which would provide roof-gardens for a number of the apartments occupying ends of the wings.

 

Whiteley’s design provided single rooms, a single apartment or a double apartment. The studio apartments on the top floor would have two-story living rooms, with balconies, which opened to the bedrooms.

 

Entrance to the hotel was arranged at the intersections of the wings, between which it was planned to lay out extensive gardens. The main lobby, three stories in height was to be located in the central octagonal unit, and in this lobby the elevators and other service features was located.

 

The hotel was designed to be a combination of Spanish and Italian. The exterior finish would be of stucco, with a tile roof, while the interior finish of the apartments would be of mahogany, southern gum and pine. Marble wainscoting, with tile flooring and mutual decorations, would be used in the main lobby.

 

Other features incorporated in the plans, included an auditorium, palm room, dining room, and an auxiliary dining room with a dance floor. The main floor, in addition to these features, would house twenty shops, arranged to permit catering to outside clients, as well as to guests of the hotel. A garage with sufficient capacity to accommodate the automobiles of guests was connected directly to the main building.

 

Unfortunately, the Hollywood-California Hotel never came to be. No reports of why the project was abandoned were ever published but it was most likely due to finances, zoning or some other such technicality.  Had it been built, there is the likelihood that it would have been demolished at some point, to make way for progress as so many of Hollywood’s landmarks have been.

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Death of the Innocent The Murder of Frank Raymond

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

 HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

 

Frank Raymond, Jr. circa 1904

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

The dark side of Hollywood existed long before the film industry arrived in town.

 

When Frank Kellogg Raymond made Hollywood his family’s home in 1901, many in town at once thought that his wife Kate was a bit odd. Frank worked in the government print shop in Washington D.C. and would spend one weekend a month with his family in Hollywood. Frank chose a neat little plot of land on the corner of Selma and Las Palmas and hired a contractor to build his family a home. Kate, however, would get involved and submit plans and specifications to several contractors. She promised to pay each of them, but failed to carry out her promises. Legal action was considered, but the idea was discouraged by Pastor Newell of the Presbyterian Church, who made it clear that the woman was mentally erratic and could hardly be held responsible for her actions.

 

Fourteen-year-old Frank Raymond attended the local Fremont grammar school in Miss Willis’ eighth grade class and was regarded as one of her brightest pupils. His mother did not have many friends in Hollywood. Had it not been for Frank, Jr., who had a large circle of friends and was popular with most everyone in town, she would have lived the life of a recluse.

 

Kate however, was clearly a brilliant and highly educated woman and had a small but significant library in her home. She was also an accomplished artist, having painted several beautiful pictures which decorated her West Selma Street home.

 

However there evidently were problems at home and on occasions she made references to her husband who worked in Washington D.C., and with whom she said she could not live. She told neighbors that she came to California on account of Frank’s health but that the real reason was that she and her husband could not agree. What friends she had stated that she never made any definite charges against him, but, from her strange manner and her continual efforts to confide her troubles to someone, the information was not taken too seriously.

 

Not long after, the Raymond’s separated and Frank returned to Washington D.C. full time and left Kate and Frank Jr. in Hollywood. “We were never able to get along well together,” Raymond later testified. “My wife was always of a high strung nature and always wanted things I could not get for her.”

 

Several times she confided her problems to the wife of Dr. H.A. Newell, pastor of the Presbyterian Church where Frank attended Sunday school. She said they had little to live on and her husband failed to send enough money to support her in comfort. On occasions she often talked of suicide which horrified Mrs. Newell, who tried to get her to look upon the pleasant side of life. Kate’s Hollywood neighbors believed that she was deranged and referred to her as “that crazy woman.”

 

In early 1906, Kate and Frank Jr. visited Washington D.C. where she attempted reconciliation with her husband, which was unsuccessful. Upon her return to Hollywood she appeared to be more dejected and Frank also reflected his mothers’ sorrows and illusions.

 

After returning from the east she volunteered at a rummage sale for the Presbyterian Church where she said she worked hard and sold many items but didn’t take a receipt. Several days later it was whispered at the Ladies Aid society meeting that she had appropriated them. Some used the term kleptomania in connection with her name and others were less kind. The items were valued at less than a dollar.

 

She evidently proved her innocence and wanted a letter of vindication but the pastor said that she was not a member and such a letter could not be given. It was also stated that it would be an admission that the church was wrong and so Kate may sue them for libel. She appealed to the minister, who she said “shut the door of his home” in her face and would have nothing to do with her even though she begged him to give her a fair hearing.

 

Kate brooded over this for days. “I had tried so hard and it was an awful shock to me,” she later said. “Every time I looked at my boy his innocent little soul seemed to appeal to me and tell me that the lad’s good intentions would be misunderstood and that he would fare no better than myself among a world of criminals.”

 

She began to believe that Frank would be better off if she sent him to “his Maker.” She waited and finally the shame of what the women in the church had said about her worked on her conscience and she decided her son should be spared from the consequences of any sin she may have committed.

 

Within a few days Kate attempted to buy chloroform from the local pharmacy, saying she intended to clean some clothes. The druggist argued with her about the amount she needed and offered to give her a small medicine bottle full instead.

 

Word quickly spread that Kate was trying to purchase chloroform and a well-known Hollywood resident learned of it and telephoned the drug store and warned the druggist to not sell it to her. When she heard this Kate fainted and fell to the floor. In her disorientation she said:

 

“I want to take myself and my son out of this wicked world, where he will be away from the temptation to swear and steal and cheat as the other boys do. I want him to leave here as pure as he came into the world.”

 

Because of this, Frank was summoned from Washington because Kate was about to be examined for insanity, but when she promised to accompany her husband back to Washington, no action was taken. At the last moment she refused to return east with him.

 

 

Because the numbering of the streets were changed in Hollywood around 1910, the exact location of the Raymond house is not known, but it was near the intersection of Selma and Las Palmas Avenue (above). The address at the time was 450 West Selma Avenue.  

 

 

On Tuesday, April 10, 1906, Kate and Frank Jr. worked around the grounds of the house. Kate told the gardener, Mr. Cranblit, that the next day she would leave him a letter on the doorstep instructing him what was to be done, explaining that she might sleep a little later than usual and did not wish to be awakened.

 

That evening she wrote two notes. One was addressed to her mother, Martha Cooper who lived in San Diego, and the other to Mrs. Cranbilt, the gardener’s wife.

 

“My Dear Mother: To you I leave all in this house – what you care to give to Mrs. Cranblit. She lived in a little house in the rear, and has a warm, kind heart. This shock will nearly kill you, too, and our separation will not be for long.

 

“In this better world we will come to understand things better than we did here, where all the mists will be cleared away. My boy will be safe from other temptations of this wicked world. I ask the forgiveness of any I have ever wronged intentionally. The world is against me and this is the only cowardly act I’ve ever been guilty of doing.”

 

In her note to Mrs. Cranblit she wrote:

 

“The God I’ve tried to serve so faithfully has forsaken me, and I cannot leave my boy to this wicked part of the world where he will be considered weak-minded if he does not lie and cheat.”

 

That evening, Kate waited until Frank went to sleep and then entered his room. He was lying on the lounge with his face turned towards her.  She packed the door and windows with towels then locked the door and turned on the gas. Kate kneeled on the floor beside her son.

 

The next morning, as Cranblit approached the house he detected the odor of gas. He rushed to the neighbors residences and, with two other men, broke down the rear door. The men were almost knocked to the ground by the amount of gas that rushed out of the kitchen. It was several minutes before they could enter.

 

Once Cranblit could finally enter the bedroom, he found Frank lying dead on the lounge and Kate, moving slightly, was half way under one of the beds.  Cranblit dragged Kate through the kitchen to the screen porch. Dr. Edwin O. Palmer, Hollywood’s city health officer was notified and a nurse was brought in to attend to Kate until she regained consciousness.

 

“Where is my boy—my little Frank,” Kate asked.

 

Neighbors who had gathered at the house did not speak of her son’s death, instead telling her that he had been taken away. They assured her that her mother was on her way to Los Angeles.

 

“I do not wish to see my mother,” Kate screamed. “Don’t allow her to come into this house. I never wish to see her again in my life. My only regret is that I did not kill myself.”

 

When her mother did arrive later that night, she was met by her son, John Cooper, who took her directly to Hollywood. Cooper put the blame directly on his sister. Her inability to live with her husband was on account of her actions and treatment of him, and was due to her mental condition. Mrs. Cooper claimed her daughter was a victim of acute melancholia and was given to illusions.

 

When Frank Raymond was wired of what had happened, the initial report was that both his wife and son were dead. “Mrs. Raymond killed herself and little boy last night. Wire instructions or come on,” read the telegram. Raymond left Washington that night by train for Hollywood.

 

When the news of Frank’s death became known, it affected his classmates at Fremont grammar school. Out of respect for the dead boy the flag was lowered to half-mast and was kept there until Frank’s burial.

 

In the meantime, Kate was taken to the county hospital and placed under arrest. When she was informed that her son was dead, she rejoiced and repeated: “I am glad he is dead. It is better for him. He is beyond wickedness now. I will kill myself when I have an opportunity. It will come, I am certain. They cannot prevent my killing myself. It is best for all concerned.” Over the next week Kate was closely watched, day and night, after trying to commit suicide by strangling herself in her bedclothes.

 

On April 15, 1906 Frank Raymond arrived in Los Angeles. He visited the morgue to view his son’s body, but said little to the attendants at Pierce Brothers morgue. He spoke to Coroner Trout and although he had not lived with his wife for several years he refrained from saying anything bitter about her. However he inferred that he believed his wife was insane for some time, and that criminal action should not be taken against her for the murder of his son.

 

The citizens of Hollywood were divided over her guilt. Nearly everyone who knew her believed that she was insane but there were others who said she should be charged with murder and be punished for her act. A former neighbor, J.G. Gunsolus and his wife believed that she was not insane when she turned on the gas and killed her son. Kate had often spoken to Mrs. Gunsolus about her family problems and had threatened to take her own life on several occasions.

 

The following day the inquest was held at the Pierce Brothers where Frank Raymond was asked only a few questions. Kate’s mother told the jury that her daughter had been mentally unsound since the birth of her son.  Other witnesses described the manner in which young Frank was put to death and told how they found the body lying on a little cot, while his unconscious mother was in a kneeling position by the bedside. Other Hollywood residents described Kate as erratic, peculiar and probably insane.

 

The coroner’s jury took two minutes to find Kate Raymond insane.  Frank Raymond sat close to his son’s body as the verdict was read. “We find that Frank Raymond came to his death through asphyxiation during the temporary insanity of his mother, Mrs. Kate B. Raymond,” the verdict read. It was suggested that Kate would, in all probability, be examined before an insanity commission in the superior court and sent to an asylum.

 

That afternoon, the funeral of Frank Raymond Jr. was held in the chapel of Hollywood Cemetery.

 

 

The grave of fourteen-year-old murder victim, Frank Raymond at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

 

 

Bottom center of photo is the tombstone of Frank Raymond. The grave is located in the far north eastern section of Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

 

 

 Afterward, Raymond paid a visit to his wife at the county hospital.

 

The following day Kate appeared before the board of insanity commissioners. When her case was called, she went forward, slowly unwrapped the white veil from her face and smiled at the men who were about to try her. “I killed little Frank you know,” she told the shocked men. “I just killed him that was all. Now that I have sent his sweet, sinless soul to the protecting arms of the Maker, I am willing, only too willing, that my soul should be lost forever. I gave up my hope of the hereafter in order that he might be spared, and do you think I am unhappy that it is so?”

 

Kate was committed to the Southern California State Hospital in San Bernardino, California. Frank Raymond divorced his wife and later remarried. He eventually became the private secretary for Congressman Thomas F. Ryan of Topeka, Kansas. Raymond died in January 1914 and was buried at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington D.C.

 

Kate was released from the asylum in early 1910 and took a ship to San Francisco and found a job as a waitress in a restaurant on Sixth Street. On the boat she met a man and got involved in a scheme with him, posing as persons of wealth. They checked into the St. Francis Hotel and cashed a bad check for $75. Her accomplice was arrested.  

 

For two years Kate roamed around California. Finally on June 8, 1912, the body of Kate Raymond was found on a Santa Barbara beach. While she was washed up by the waves, there was no water found in her lungs. It was believed that she first took poison. The two paragraph newspaper report told of her earlier attempts at suicide and the death of her son. The headline read: “Finally Succeeds.”

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Thanksgiving in Hollywood, 1936

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

Hollywood folk join forces in attack on holiday turkeys

 

 

Premieres, parties and sports vie for attention of Thanksgiving merrymakers

 

By Marshall Kester
Los Angeles Times
November 29, 1936

 

Theresa and Tom Turkey certainly took a beating under the carving hands of prominent film folk on Thursday. Abetted by tart cranberry sauce and tasty chestnut dressing, the roast gobblers sacrificed all that the idols of the world might wear a series of benign, well-fed expressions.

 

Thanksgiving dinners this year followed closely on the heels of a most busy, appetite-inducing twenty four hours. The highly successful Lloyds of London premiere and The Helpers party Wednesday night, together with exciting USC-UCLA pigskin parade on Thursday, were incentive for many ladle gatherings. Now we are in the midst of tapering off for a week on turkey has—something the Pilgrims didn’t anticipate.

 

Lovely Jeanette MacDonald and her mother, Mrs. Anna MacDonald, held forth in their Hancock Park home with plenty of turkey and trimmings for Mr. and Mrs. John Mack Brown, Dr. Lawrence Singleton, Mrs. Lela Rogers, Ginger Rogers, Mary Brian, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Hargreaves (Helen Ferguson), Virginia Reid, Grace Adele Newell, Georges Jomier, Robert Marlow, and her fiancé, Gene Raymond.

 

Anita Louise and her mother, Mrs. Ann Beresford, have leased the Rod La Rocque mansion in Hollywood. Here they co-hostessed a Thanksgiving party for Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Walser, Mrs. Pauline Miller, David Blankenhorn, John Blankenhorn and George Blankenhorn, Thomas Beck, Eloise Lewis, Marie Rouse, Mr. And Mrs. Sheridan and Mr. Dryden.

 

Glenda Farrell turned on a fancy feast at her home for her family and a few close friends. Imbibing portions of the glorified fowl were Glenda’s father, Charles Farrell, Gene and Dick Farrell, Jerry Hopper, and the hostess’ young son, Tommy Farrell.  Drew Eberson took Glenda to the football game before setting down to the turkey.

 

Sue and Chester Morris spread a real family dinner for their youngsters, Brooks and Cynthia; his mother and sister, Mrs. William Morris and Miss Willy Morris, and his brother and sister-in-law, Mr. And Mrs. Adrian Morris. Mr. and Mrs. Cedric Gibbons (Dolores Del Rio) enjoyed a quiet but thorough dinner with their mother, Mrs. J.L. Asunsolo.

 

Eloise and Pat O’Brien invited their respective families to come join their festive banquet and Brian Donlevy hosted a big dinner for his fiancée, Marjorie Lane; her mother, Mrs. E. W. Lane, and brothers Jack and Bob Lane. Mr. and Mrs. John Monk Saunders carved a golden-brown bird at a quiet dinner with their young daughter, Susan Cary Saunders. Doris Dudley’s turkey was shattered by Fritz Lang, her aunt and two cousins of Pasadena.

 

Down at Palm Springs, the Ralph Bellamy’s turned on the main course and all the extras for his father and mother, Mr. And Mrs. Rexford Bellamy, and sister and brother-in-law. Joby and Dick Arlen seated at their heavily laden board their young son Ricky; Dick’s sister, Mrs. Edward B. Lilly, Joby’s father and brother, Joseph Ralston and E. A. Ralston.

 

Marsha Hunt celebrated with a double incentive for the party. She had just completed her biggest picture at the same time her new home in Westwood was ready for occupancy. Guests on hand for a buffet supper, dancing and games were Eleanore Whitney, Mary Carlisle, June Martel, John Howard, Lee Bowman, Johnny Downs and Robert Cummings.

 

Well, the turkeys have had their day—at their own expense!

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Hollywood’s First Scandal

Friday, September 30th, 2011

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and Hollywood’s first scandal

 

 

By Jude Sheerin
BBC News, Washington

 

Guests to San Francisco’s Westin St Francis Hotel still ask to see the room where an infamous bootleg-booze-soused party took place 90 years ago.

 

The management are happy to show visitors the suite, if it’s unoccupied, but they don’t know exactly what happened in there on Labor Day in 1921 – no-one does.

 

One thing is clear: In Room 1219 that afternoon, an actress by the name of Virginia Rappe was screaming in agony on a bed.

 

Later that week she was dead.

 

And the man charged with her death was Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Hollywood’s first one-million-dollar star.

 

Click here to continue reading…

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The Story of Chaplin’s Walk of Fame Star

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

A Star is Born — Charlie Chaplin’s

 

 

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

This year marks the 5oth anniversary of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The idea for the Walk of Fame, which is world famous, goes back to 1953 when E. M. Stuart, who served as the volunteer president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce proposed the idea. Stuart described the Walk as a means to “maintain the glory of a community whose name means glamour and excitement in the four corners of the world.” A committee was appointed to begin fleshing out the idea. In 1960, 1,550 honorees were selected by committees representing the four branches of the entertainment industry at that time, and were laid out on the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard and two blocks of Vine Street – everyone that is, except for comedian Charlie Chaplin.

 

Chaplin’s name was in the original list nominated for inclusion in the walk back in 1956, but Hollywood property owners objected to Chaplin, charging his moral and leftwing leanings tended to discredit him and the entertainment industry. His star was not included.

 

In 1952 Chaplin had left Hollywood on a visit to England and while aboard ship in the Atlantic, was notified that his reentry permit had been revoked. Atty. Gen. James P. McGranery said the action had been prompted by “public charges” associating Chaplin with communism and “grave moral charges.” The comedian would have to appear at a hearing to prove his “moral worth” before he could return. Chaplin, who was still a British subject, declined to go through such a hearing. “Since the end of the last world war,” Chaplin said, “I have been the object of lies and propaganda by powerful reactionary groups who, by their influence and by the aid of America’s yellow press, have created an unhealthy atmosphere in which liberal-minded individuals can be singled out and persecuted. Under these conditions I find it virtually impossible to continue my motion-picture work, and I have therefore given up my residence in the United States.” Chaplin and his family moved to a mansion overlooking Lake Geneva near the Swiss village of Vevey.

 

That government ruling was widely and correctly interpreted as a shabby cover to bar Chaplin from the country for political reasons. While he never belonged to a political party, he was sympathetic to liberal and some radical causes. Worse, he was outspoken. And some of his films, which ridiculed aspects of American society, were denounced as “left-wing propaganda.”

 

In August 1960, a superior court judge refused to issue an order compelling the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Hollywood Improvement Association to show cause why they should not be directed to include Chaplin’s name on the Walk of Fame. The court acted on a petition filed by Charles Chaplin, Jr., who contended that omission of his father’s name from the Hollywood Boulevard sidewalk project was malicious. Chaplin Jr. himself demanded $400,000 damages on the complaint that the decision of the two Hollywood organizations libeled him and injured his career. His suit was eventually dismissed.

 

After the reentry prohibition against Chaplin was dropped years later, the actor remained in Switzerland. As the years passed, both Chaplin and the times changed and, in an interview in London in 1962, he said: “What happened to me, I can’t condemn or criticize the country for that. There are many admirable things about American and its system, too. I have no ill feelings. I carry no hate. My only enemy is time.”

 

By the early days of 1972, the officials, including an attorney general of the United States, who were outraged at Chaplin’s radically-tinged politics, were now gone. It was rumored that Chaplin would return to the United States for the first time in twenty years to receive a special Academy Award voted to him. If Chaplin decided to return, he would have to apply to the U.S. Consulate in Geneva for an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa. The U.S. State Department would then rule on the application.

 

Possibly because of Chaplin’s promising return, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Committee voted on whether to approve a star for the actor and voted 5 to 4 against it. After that vote, Chamber president, A. Ronald Button ordered an advisory poll of chamber membership that responded 3 to 1 in favor of installing a Chaplin star. Based on that, the Chambers directors went against their Executive Committees recommendation and voted 30 to 3 in favor of adding Chaplin’s name to the sidewalk honor. The decision still had to be approved by the Los Angeles City Council, but Button said it had always approved the directors’ recommendations in the past. “I can’t imagine them opposing the star,” he said. Eventually the city council approved Chaplin’s star, 11 to 3. The three dissenting councilmen never spoke publicly in opposition, but privately complained that since the comedian earned his money here he should not have left the country to live in Switzerland.

 

 

At the time there were eighty names previously approved that had not yet been inserted because the funds were not available. This was before the days when a star had to be paid for by fans. Instead each star’s installation was funded by the Chamber which, at the time, cost between $900 and $1,000. However, one unnamed board member offered to pay for the installation of Chaplin’s star. At that time it was not known where or when the installation would take place.

 

Soon it was announced that after an exile of two decades, Chaplin would return to the United States and be honored with a special award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Before leaving Switzerland for New York, Chaplin received anonymous death threats, most by telephone saying they were going to kill him. “He expected to be shot over here,” said William Jordan, whose private detective firm was hired by the Academy to guard Chaplin during his four-day visit to Los Angeles. “That was his line. He said, ‘They killed Mr. Kennedy.’ I can’t give you the exact number but there were at least a dozen. They were coming into the Music Center – site of the Oscar presentation – and they called his hotel.” Sometimes they specified they were going to blow him up or shoot him. Sometimes they didn’t specify how it would be done.

 

On April 7, 1972, the 82 year-old Chaplin and his wife Oona arrived at Los Angeles International Airport. Photographers, cameramen and reporters lined a walkway that extended from the plane to a waiting car. Finally, after a quick flurry of activity, Chaplin appeared at the top of the terminal stairs. He was short, almost portly. His white hair was wispy in the breeze. As he reached the base of the stairs he looked up and smiled at the row of waiting reporters. There were no cheers, no applause. He waved, and his words were barely audible. “How does it feel to be back, Mr. Chaplin?” a reporter asked. “Very strange,” was his reply.

 

 

Oona and Charles Chaplin on their arrival in Los Angeles in 1972

 

 

Only two representatives from Hollywood awaited him at the end of the walkway – Daniel Taradash, president of the Academy and Howard W. Koch, a member of the board of governors and the Academy’s treasurer. “This is the happiest moment in the history of Hollywood,” Taradash told Chaplin. The comedian, perhaps unable to hear amidst the commotion, shook his hand but reportedly said nothing. Chaplin was taken to the Beverly Hills Hotel, passing Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios in Culver City and 20th Century-Fox en route. His car did not stop or slow down. Chaplin made no public appearances, interviews or tours while he was in Los Angeles and turned down many of the private invitations he received.

 

During Chaplin’s arrival that morning, a statue of him was unveiled at the Hollywood Visitors and Information Center at Hollywood and Vine to commemorate his return. Almost immediately bomb threats and complaints poured in forcing the removal of the statue the following day to the Artisan’s Patio at 6727 Hollywood Boulevard, where it went on public display. Letters from across the country were received expressing bitterness towards Chaplin and Hollywood’s welcome after twenty years. “I am tired, tired to death of these insane Revolutionary Zionists of which Charlie Chaplin is one of the very worst,” wrote one critic. There were several defenders – by far the minority – among the letter writers, and one expressed a common sentiment: “His political beliefs of whatever persuasion should not be allowed to obscure his comic genius.”

 

Threats were also leveled at the dedication of Chaplin’s Walk of Fame bronze star ceremony which was scheduled for the following Monday morning – the same day Chaplin would receive his special Oscar. Anonymous telephone threats that the star would be ripped up or defaced were received. One letter writer said: “The only star I would give Charlie Chaplin is a red star… I am against putting Chaplin’s name on any of our streets. He never donated a dime or time to anything in America. I say don’t let him enter these United States again. Russians can have him with my compliments.”

 

The following Monday morning, fans and several armed guards, gathered at the northwest corner of Hollywood Boulevard and McCadden Place as the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce officials uttered words of benediction over Chaplin’s star. Chaplin’s 12 year-old granddaughter, Susan Maree Chaplin, unveiled the star in her famous grandfather’s absence. The dedication ceremony was attended by many Hollywood oddities including “Alice of Hollyweird,” with her singing dogs; Albert Ciremele, a Chaplin impersonator, and “Aunt Pollu,” sweeping up the street with a gold-speckled mop. Also attending were several Keystone Cops, only one of whom, Eddie LeVeque, was an original. In the crowd were several old, white-haired women passing out a sheet of paper purporting to show “Charlie Chaplin’s Red Record.” To anyone who would listen, they would rail on about Chaplin’s political philosophy.

 

The Chamber of Commerce hired private detectives to guard Chaplin’s star until the actor returned to Switzerland. One guard commented that some person’s walking by had made derogatory remarks but “most of the people are pro-Chaplin.”

 

 

 

Charlie Chaplin’s Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (above and below) as it looks today at 6755 Hollywood Boulevard

 

 

 

That evening, Chaplin and Oona were accompanied by private bodyguards and driven to the Music Center where he received his special Oscar for “the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century.” Stepping onto the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Chaplin received the longest standing ovation in Academy Award history, lasting a full five minutes. Filled with emotion, Chaplin told the captivated audience: “Oh, thank you so much. This is an emotional moment for me, and words seem so futile, so feeble. I can only say that… thank you for the honor of inviting me here, and, oh, you’re wonderful, sweet people. Thank you.”

 

 

Chaplin after accepting his honorary Oscar

 

 

Before he returned home to Switzerland, Chaplin met with Tim Durant, an old friend, confidant, roommate and sportsman. According to Durant, Chaplin was bewildered by the Los Angeles he came back to as an old, uncertain, rheumy-eyed man. Chaplin would look out, but didn’t seem to recognize the beaches at Santa Monica, where in the old days Marion Davies would hire a bus and run down to the beach at night and light a fire and hunt grunion with Charlie and Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino till dawn. One day he turned to Durant to shake his hand, and tears came to his eyes. “Tim, we were pals, weren’t we?” Chaplin asked. “And we did have fun, didn’t we? And it’s all gone now, isn’t it?”

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