Archive for the ‘Hollywood History’ Category

Historic fires at Universal Studios

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

After fire, Universal Studios reopens backlot

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Historic fires at Universal Studios

 

 

 

 

by Allan R. Ellenberger  

 

March 25, 1913

 

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

 

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

  

 

September 29, 1917

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

June 3, 1919

 

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

 

 

 

 

May 25, 1922

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

December 23, 1922

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

February 26, 1923

 

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

 

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

 

 

Universal Film Corporation, 1924 (LAPL)

 

 

August 27, 1925

 

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

 

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

 

 

April 8, 1927

 

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

 

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

 

 

January 7, 1931

 

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

 

 

October 25, 1932

 

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

 

 

September 8, 1937

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

December 23, 1954

 

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

 

 

Universal back lot during the 1957 fire 

 

September 25, 1957

 

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

 

 

May 15, 1967

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The total estimated damage was set at $1 million.

 

 

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

 

 

November 6, 1990

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

September 6, 1997

 

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

 

 

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Cornelius Cole’s memories of Lincoln

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

 HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

 Senator Cornelius Cole tells of his friend, Abraham Lincoln

 

 

 

Hollywood history is more than celluloid and movie stars. The town also has connections to some of our country’s history. One of the early residents of Hollywood was Senator Cornelius Cole, who named several Hollywood streets for family members and memories of his youth. Cole knew, and was friends with Abraham Lincoln. He sat on the platform listening as Lincoln gave the famous Gettysburg Address, and was one of the last people to visit him at the White House on the day he was assassinated. What follows is Cole’s personal memories of our 16th president.

 

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By Cornelius Cole

 

The first time I ever met Abraham Lincoln was in 1863, toward the close of the Civil War. It was in Washington, whither I had hurried from California to see if I could be of any use to my country. My first meeting with Lincoln did not especially impress me with this wonderful American, but later I came to know him better and the more I saw of him the greater grew my admiration and respect for him as a man and friend, and as the possessor of rare genius as a statesman and leader of men.

 

At that time I had been a resident of California for nearly fifteen years as I had left my native home in New York and made my way across the plains in 1849 when gold was discovered in California. I was one of the fortunate ones in that rush for treasures and after working awhile at placer mining, which was hard labor, I went to San Francisco with all the gold I could carry.

 

There seems to be a lasting impression about the gold fields of California in ’49 that is absolutely erroneous. I have been asked about the “lawlessness that was rampant” there.

 

For my part, I never saw any. The men who got to the diggings first, when I was there, were honest, hard-working fellows, who minded their own business and respected the rights of others.

 

When the war of the Secession began we men living in California organized troops and I joined but never got into the regular service. As I said before, I went to Washington in 1863 to see if there was not something of service I could do. I got as far as the lines at Fredericksburg, but that was the extent of my experience in the war. I next came to Washington as a Congressman and I saw Lincoln again and soon fell under the charm of his extraordinary personality. Later still, as a member of the House, I was so fortunate as to become well acquainted with him and Mrs. Cole and I were on terms of great intimacywith the president and Mrs. Lincoln.

 

What a man he was! Courageous and patient, strong and tender, thoughtful yet merry — determined, yet forgiving, and quick to pardon.

 

Some have talked about Lincoln’s “ungainly” figure and his “ugliness” of features. Let me, who knew him intimately, tell you as emphatically as I can that Abraham Lincoln was not ugly.

 

He was no boor, nor uncouth. He was courteous in the extreme and always had the right word to say in the right place. In his gentle, respectful way he was quite gallant with some of the ladies who attended the White House functions and they all admired him greatly.

 

Mrs. Cole and I were among those invited one evening to a dinner at the White House, a very fashionable event, and where, as a matter of course, we all wore our best clothes and white gloves. As the evening drew to a close and Mrs. Cole and I were about to say goodnight to the President, she discovered she had lost one of her gloves and asked me to look around the room for it. As I started to do so President Lincoln detained me with his kindly hand and said with a smile:

 

“Never mind hunting for the glove, Mr. Cole. I’ll look for it myself after the others have gone and I’ll keep it as a souvenir.”

 

That didn’t sound like the awkward words of an uncouth clown, did it? No, sir; he was polished and elegant at all times.

 

I was in Gettysburg on that memorable day when he delivered the address in the battlefield dedicating part of the ground as a national cemetery. I sat on the little platform that had been erected, being quite near Lincoln, and heard those memorable words of his. He had a fine speaking voice, rather high pitched but very pleasant and expressive. When he stopped, the crowd sat motionless, absolutely still, and I suppose Mr. Lincoln thought that his speech was a failure. But it was a solemn occassion and the crowd was inclined to be quietly respectful.

 

I saw Lincoln on the afternoon before the tragic evening when he was assassinated in Ford’s Theater. I was leaving Washington at the time and called to say goodbye to the President. I read of his death the following day.

 

 

Monument on the family plot of Cornelius Cole at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

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Early Hollywood real estate

Friday, April 30th, 2010

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

 Hollywood real estate in the early days

 

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

The above real estate ad appeared in the Los Angeles Times on December 21, 1902. Some of the street names have changed since then — Prospect Avenue is now Hollywood Boulevard and Hartford Avenue is now Bronson and Warner Avenue was renamed Van Ness.

 

The property in that area was once part of the G. W. Warner estate. Van Ness was at one time Warner Avenue and Carlton and Harold Ways were named for Warner’s two sons; those two street names still survive.

 

The prices ranged from $800 to $1,575 per lot. The latter price was asked for the corners of Van Ness and Hollywood Boulevard. The corner of Sunset and Wilton Place (then Lemona Avenue) sold for $1,300 as did the corner of  Bronson and Hollywood.

 

Just 25 years later, the value climbed to where one foot in the vicinity, on Hollywood Boulevard, was then worth five times as much as the entire seventy-five foot lot was in 1902.

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Hollywood sign given a reprieve

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

HOLLYWOOD NEWS

Hollywood sign supporters get 16 more days to reaise funds to buy nearby land

 

 

Preservationists fighting to protect 138-acres of land near the Hollywood sign have been granted a reprieve.

 

They will have 16 more days to raise the $12.5 million needed to purchase the land from a group of Chicago investors. The deadline for the sale was Wednesday, but the owners agreed to extend it until April 30, according to Los Angeles City Council Member Tom LaBonge.

 

The owners, Fox River Financial Resources Inc., bought the land from Howard Hughes’ estate in 2002 for $1.7 million. They put it up for sale two years ago. The property is zoned to build four luxury homes.

 

LaBonge said $11 million has already been raised, and $1.5 million is still needed to purchase land. Two donors stepped forward Wednesday to help the effort.

 

Philanthropist Aileen Getty and the Tiffany & Co. Foundation said they would donate a $500,000 matching grant if the community raised $1 million. Getty and the Tiffany Foundation each previously donated $1 million to the campaign.

 

Over the weekend, supporters held a fundraiser at Lake Hollywood Park.

 

— Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times

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The Hollywood sign’s history

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

The story of the Hollywood sign

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger
February 14, 2010

 

The Hollywood Sign has recently been in the news because of developers attempts to build condominiums on nearby Cahuenga Peak. A move is on to raise money to buy the land and turn it over to the city of Los Angeles to become a part of Griffith Park and thus save the pristine view from the flats of Hollywood. To aid its case, the sign has been covered to read, “Save the Peak.”

 

The Hollywood Sign has had a remarkable and turbulent history and has endured its share of problems, including a suicide leap from the H, squabbles over who should maintain it, markings from mountain-climbing spray painters, hassles among community groups about its worth, and several threats over the years to tear it down.

 

The sign has been a major part of the local scenery for more than 86 years, longer than most city landmarks such as Grauman’s Chinese, City Hall, the Shrine Auditorium and UCLA. It even predates Mulholland Drive and is decades older than any freeway.

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Fifty to 100 laborers dug the holes with pick axes and shovels. An access road was completed so the enormous sheet metal letters could be brought in. The sign was built in about 60 days at a cost of $21,000, Roche said. “I think we built it faster than you could today (1984).” Roche recalled the sign being lighted, but insisted there were not lights on the original HOLLYWOODLAND. “That came sometime later,” he said.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The “H” falls down after a storm (LAPL) 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Just a year later, in January 1977, the D became wobbly because of recent rainstorms and there was concern about how long it would stay in place. Up close, the sign creaked and rattled, even in a light wind. Its timbers were rotting. Sheet metal, rusted and corroded, fell from its face and loose securing cables dangled from some of the 50-foot high letters.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Hollywood sign in 1978 (LAPL)

 

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

 

A campaign was established once again to “Save the Sign.” Eventually, after several efforts to raise money was not sufficient, nine donors came forward, each choosing a letter, and contributed $27,777 each. The donors included: (H) newspaper publisher, Terrance Donnelly; (O) Italian movie producer, Giovanni Mazza; (L) Les Kelly (Kelly Blue Book); (L) Gene Autry; (Y) Hugh Heffner; (W) Andy Williams; (O) Warner Bros. Records; (O) Alice Cooper, in memory of Groucho Marx; (D) Dennis Lidtke.

 

The new letters were made of steel, and was unveiled on Hollywood’s 75th anniversary, November 14, 1978.

 

Caltech students pose for photo after altering the Hollywood sign (LAPL)

 

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

 

That brings us to the recent alteration of SAVE THE PEAK, to help raise money to purchase the 138-acre parcel to the west of the sign on Cahuenga Peak, preventing possible development that would permanently spoil the view. The land would become part of Griffith Park.

 

For more information on how to help, go to: http://www.savehollywoodland.org/

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Hollywood – in the beginning

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

Hollywood, the magnificent foothill town!

 

Hollywood-early-street

An early Hollywood street, circa 1890s (LAPL)

 

Below is an ad that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on November 13, 1888 to advertise the sale of property in the new community of Hollywood – an interesting read. The seller is H.H. Wilcox, the founder of Hollywood.

 

 

hollywood!

 

 

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Thanksgiving in Hollywood, 1931

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

How Hollywood stars celebrated Thanksgiving in 1931

 

thanksgiving

 

Hollywood’s basis for Thanksgiving sometimes ranged from gratitude to an indulgent fate for the renewal of an option to thanks for a new divorce. But whatever the individual cause for thanks. the favored of filmdom in 1931 joined the rest of the country in celebrating the Thanksgiving season.

 

Marlene Dietrich observed the holiday entertaining a few guests and, for the occasion, allowed little Maria to dine with the grown-ups. Others who celebrated quietly at home were Dolores Costello and John Barrymore who entertained Lionel Barrymore and Helene Costello; Kay Francis and her husband, Kenneth McKenna; Buster and Natalie Talmadge Keaton, their two sons, and Norma and Constance Talmadge; Vivian Duncan and Nils Asther and their new daughter, Evelyn. The Robert Montgomery’s, also assisted their young daughter (five-week old Martha who died at 14 months of spinal meningitis) in her first Thanksgiving, while the Reginald Denny’s also had their young son to initiate.

 

Ruth Chatterton and Ralph Forbes travelled to Arrowhead for the occasion. Marie Dressler, accompanied by her house guest, Lady Ravensdale, and Claire du Brey, drove to the desert and dined at the La Quinta Hotel. Wallace Beery spent Thanksgiving in New York, as did Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

 

Clark Gable spent the holiday in the mountains. Jimmy Durante cooked his own turkey, decorating it with  an original dressing, but declining to reveal the recipe.

 

Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels celebrated the day in San Francisco with the opening of Bebe’s play, The Last of Mrs. Cheney. Janet Gaynor was Europe-bound, accompanied by her husband, Lydell Peck and mother. Maurice Chevalier  was joined by his wife, actress Yvonne Vallee,  for his first Thanksgiving. Tallulah Bankhead arrived in town for formal dinner plans. Two new sets of newlyweds — June Collyer and Stuart Erwin and Carole Lombard and William Powell — observed the day at home.

 

Victor MacLaglen presided over a huge dining table which was a part of the Tuder furniture imported from England for his Flintridge home.

 

From several places across the country, the Will Rogers clan collected in time for turkey. Will, Jr. was home from Stanford, and Jimmy arrived from Roswell, New Mexico.

 

Wherever you are and whatever your plans, I hope you have a fabulous Thanksgiving. 

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Lucy’s First Hollywood Home…

Monday, April 6th, 2009

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

Lucy the Red?

 

Lucille Ball

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

  

Lucille Ball bought this house (below) at 1344 N. Ogden Drive for her family shortly after arriving in Hollywood in the 1930s. Lucy lived here with her family for a couple of years before moving out on her own. The family remained and it was here that her grandfather held Communist Party meetings and where he talked her, and her mother and brother into registering as Communists. This information surfaced in 1953 during the Red Scare and Lucy was forced to testify before HUAAC, who believed her explanation.

  

Lucille Ball's home

 1344 N. Ogden Drive, Hollywood

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Lucille Ball's voter registration

 

Lucille Ball’s voter registration card (UCLA Libary Digital Collection)

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Charlie Chaplin in World War I…

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

World War I

Charlie Chaplin

 

Douglas Fairbanks lifting up Charlie Chaplin
at a war bonds rally in New York City 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger 

 

During the Great War, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and other film stars spoke at bond rallies that helped sell $18.7 billion in Liberty Bonds.

 

Shortly before the end of World War I, it was speculated that comedian Charlie Chaplin may be drafted as of June 1, 1918. “I’ve always been ready and am still ready to serve my country and the cause of liberty whenever it was necessary for me to go,” said Chaplin just before he left on a Liberty Bond rally in the south.

 

Chaplin appeared in four towns daily for the  Liberty Loan cause, passing up Pullman cars and travelling chair cars, resorting to autos and freights for the purpose of making towns on time. In some towns where there were no public halls, meetings were held in tobacco warehouses. At Raleigh, North Carolina, Chaplin raised $92,000 for Liberty Bonds and offered to kiss all little girls who bought bonds. While he enjoyed the osculator ceremonies, he had to discontinue the practice merely on the account of the time consumed. The age limit was not stated.

 

Below is Charlie Chaplin’s World War I registration card, dated June 5, 1917. At the time he was living at the Los Angeles Athletic Club and working for Lone Star Co. (click on image to enlarge)

  

  

 

 

 (National Archives)

 

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Cecil B. DeMille on Wallace Reid…

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

Cecil B. DeMille Talks About…

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Wallace Reid

 

 

  

Wallace Reid, one of  the outstanding stars of his time, was first brought to DeMille’s  attention in D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915).

 

“He [Reid] played the part of blacksmith in the picture, and I was very impressed with the marvelous fight he put up. He was probably on the screen not more than seventy-five feet, but his magnificent physical strength and appearance was striking.

 

“However, Wally wasn’t very much of an actor in those days. He was stiff and rather wooden, and it was difficult to make him unbend. I sent for him and we had a chat. He was very much a kid, but I put him under contract fro a small amount, something like $60 or $75 a week. I gave him important leads to do and later public opinion made a star out of him.

 

“The first thing he did for me was with Geraldine Farrar in Maria Rosa (1916), then with Farrar in Carmen (1915), and later with the same star in Joan the Woman (1917). Then I decided to allow him to carry a picture, without starring in it, and I called the picture The Golden Chance (1915). Cleo Ridgely played opposite him in it, and it proved indeed to be Wally’s golden chance. It was a big success and Wally was a very big success in it.”

— Cecil B. DeMille

 

NOTE: I think DeMille had some problems with his chronology

 

The preceding is taken from an interview that DeMille gave the Los Angeles Times on August 21, 1932.

 

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