Archive for the ‘Hollywood Pioneers’ Category

Rollin B. Lane, and a little Hollywood magic

Friday, January 12th, 2018

Rollin B. Lane (Photo courtesy of Ripon College Archives)

While not well-known today, Rollin B. Lane was an early Hollywood resident; an admitted capitalist and philanthropist who donated large sums of money for parks, libraries and orphanages. However, if he is known at all it would be for a street named for his mother, and for the home he built more than a century ago, which is now one of the oldest standing in Hollywood. In 1909, Lane named his home the “Holly Chateau,” but for the past fifty-five years it has been known by its more celebrated name – the Magic Castle. 

Rollin Benjamin Lane was born on May 28, 1854 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the son of Leonard Lane and Olive Pickett. The family home was located on Algoma Street, however, when his parents divorced (or his father deserted them), Rollins and his mother moved to nearby Pickett when he was two years old. His maternal grandparents, Armine and Anna Pickett, were pioneer residents of Pickett and Winnebago county.

Lane attended school at the old district No. 6 building, built on land donated by his grandfather. In 1872, he graduated from Ripon College and later became associate editor of the old Daily Evening Wisconsin in Milwaukee before settling in Redlands, California in the winter of 1886.

In Redlands, he invested in real estate and owned a 17-acre orange grove. With other investors, he established the Union Bank of Redlands, and was its cashier for five years. In 1890, Lane moved to Portland, Oregon, where he organized the Multnomah County Bank, of which he was president for three years before selling his interest in 1895.

In October 1896, Lane married Katherine Azubah Glynn, a teacher, and the author of the fictional, “The Girl from Oshkosh.” Kate was born in March 3, 1864, in Bucktooth, New York to La Fayette Glynn and Mary E. Perry. She was also the great-granddaughter of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, the early American naval officer.

Lane, an ardent Republican, hurried to marry Katherine so he could return to California to vote in the presidential election for McKinley. Katherine evidently sympathized and consented to a quick wedding and the couple left immediately for Redlands. There he purchased a house at the head of Center Street.

The Lane’s slowly made their presence known in Hollywood, moving there around 1902, making friends with influential people of the fairly new community. They attended the formal opening of the Hollywood Hotel’s new addition in 1905. It was then that he became acquainted with local real estate icons such as the Whitley’s, Wilcox’s and other Hollywood pioneers.

Meanwhile, Lane continued with his California real estate investments including projects in the San Fernando and San Joaquin Valley’s. In 1907, Lane became a backer of the new community of Corcoran in central California. Founded by H. J. Whitley, who also had investments in Hollywood (Whitley Heights, Whitley Avenue), many of his co-investors were other Hollywood citizens including General H. G. Otis (Los Angeles Times), Arthur Letts (Broadway Department Store), and Dr. Alan Gardner (Gardner Avenue). Much later, Corcoran became the site of the California State Prison, home to a number of notable inmates including the late Charles Manson, Juan Corona and Phil Spector.

Now a resident of Hollywood, Lane began construction in early 1909 on his elegant Holly Chateau at 7001 Franklin Avenue, at the foot of the Hollywood Hills. The original house was designed by the architectural firm of Dennis and Farwell in the French “Chateau” or Gothic Renaissance style and adapted from a residence in Redlands known as “Kimberly Crest” which is now preserved as a house museum.

Holly Chateau, a two-story frame and cement plaster house, had a large basement and finished attic under a mansard roof. The home initially had seventeen rooms including a roof garden and sun parlor. The basement contained a laundry, fruit and storage rooms and two large gas furnaces which heated the house.

Lane house drawing that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on January 23, 1910. (click on image to enlarge)

The halls, staircase and library were made of quarter-sawed white oak; the dining room was of mahogany and the den in natural redwood and of Turkish design. The parlor was decorated in white enamel with gold decorations in the Louis XV style, while the balance of the house, including the bedrooms and five bathrooms had white enamel finish. A large billiard room occupied the third floor. Other features included French windows, five or six fireplaces and carved mantels.

The Lanes shared their wealth with causes that were closest to their hearts. Because of her interest in community parks, Katherine was known as the “Tree Lady.” Hollywood’s Lanewood Avenue (named after Lane’s twice-married mother, Olive Pickett Lane-Wood), is still lined with large pine trees which Katherine most likely planted since the Lane’s once owned the land.

Lanewood Avenue, named after Olive Pickett Lane-Wood, in Hollywood. The pine trees that line the street were most likely planted by Katherine Lane.

She was chairman of the tree-planting committee that procured 360 cherry trees from Japan for planting around Griffith Park. Working with the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Katherine is responsible for the planting of the landmark palm trees that line Wilshire Boulevard.

Katherine was elected president of the Hollywood Women’s Club and was the founder of the Round-the-World Club, Lane Tree Club, Perry Art Club and The Juniors. She also joined such organizations as the Hollywood Club, Oshkosh Club, Ebell Club, Women’s Press Club, Daughters of the American Revolution and Casa Del Mar. In 1932, she hosted the Wisconsin delegates of the 1932 Olympics, which were held in Los Angeles.

Around the time that they moved into the Chateau, the Lane’s adopted a son. The 1910 census does not mention a son, however, in 1920, twelve year-old Rollin B. Lane Jr. appears. Some have assumed that is the reason for a $25,000 donation to construct a building for the Los Angeles Children’s Home Society, but not much is known about the adoption.

Discord came to the Chateau in mid 1923, when Katherine filed for divorce against her 69 year-old husband. In her complaint she charged cruelty and named another woman, asking for $750 a month in alimony. A restraining order was issued to prevent Lane from removing anything from the house. However, after a meeting between the couple and their lawyers, a reconciliation was arranged and Lane returned to 7001 Franklin Avenue. However, Lane atoned for his sins the following January when he took Katherine and their son on a world cruise. A tour of Alaska followed this two years later and another world tour in 1927.

The passport photo for the Lane’s first world tour. Rollin, Rollin, Jr and Katherine Lane.

As the movie industry invaded Hollywood, the Lane’s kept their distance and refused to hobnob with the communities new residents. There have been urban legends about cowboy star, Tom Mix riding his horse down the mansion’s staircase (this story seems to follow him at several Hollywood residences), but it never happened. Also, the story about actress Janet Gaynor once living at the Chateau are also false.

The closest that the Lanes came to acknowledging the entertainment industry was a party they hosted to celebrate the birthday of composer, Carrie Jacobs-Bond, which was held at the Chateau for several years. Bond, who also lived in Hollywood, was a songwriter probably best known for composing the wedding standard, “I Love You Truly.” It became Katherine’s custom to celebrate Bond’s birthday with a garden party.

During their 1924 world cruise, Katherine was on the Indian Ocean and when the ship’s orchestra played “A Perfect Day,” – another Bond composition – it touched her heart, so if she reached home safely, she would give flowers to Bond, honoring her living presence instead of her memory.

On one birthday celebration, August 11, 1925, more than 300 people gathered on the Chateau grounds to observe Bond’s 64th birthday. Among those attending were George H. Coffin, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce; real estate developer, C. E. Toberman; impresario, L. E. Beyhmer, and many others from Hollywood society. While no film people actually attended the festivities (or were invited), telegrams of felicitations were received from Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and “other celebrities.”

Unidentified woman, Katherine Lane and Rollin B. Lane at cornerstone laying ceremony for the Lane Library at Ripon College (Photo courtesy of Ripon College Archives)

In May 1929, Rollin Lane presented his alma-mater, the Ripon College Board of Trustees with $100,000, to be used to build the Lane Library. Lane, his mother-in-law, Mary Glynn and Katherine attended the cornerstone laying ceremony in June 1930.

Rollin B. Lane laying the cornerstone of Lane Library at Ripon College (Photo courtesy of Ripon College Archives)

The year before, Lane gave $20,000 for the construction of a new school building and auditorium in his hometown of Pickett, named the Armine and Anna Pickett Memorial School, after his maternal grandparents. Today it’s known as the Pickett Community Center. “It was quite the party when he came back to dedicate it,” said Mary Callies, researcher and treasurer of the Center. “There were endless parties; everyone wanted to be with someone who knew somebody in Hollywood.”

Day-to-day life, though slower, continued at Holly Chateau for the Lane’s. Around 1936, Lane became ill and rarely left the house. On August 23, 1940,

Rollin B. Lane’s death certificate (click on image to enlarge)


Rollin B. Lane died of a stroke in a small corner bedroom of the Chateau. He was 86 years-old. Funeral services were held at the Hollywood Cemetery Chapel and burial was in the family plot next to his mother.

Katherine Lane’s death certificate (click on image to enlarge)



Katherine lived at 7001 Franklin Avenue until her death at the Glendale Sanitarium on December 9, 1945. She was buried at Hollywood Cemetery between her husband and her mother (who is unmarked).




Lane family marker at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

During the years after Katherine’s death, the Chateau was divided into a multi-family home. Following that it was a home for the elderly and lastly it was altered into a jumble of small apartments.

In 1950, Harry Stafford, a stage and screen actor, died in one of the rooms.

In the 1950s, when the house was on the market, Hazel Meadows, Roland Lane Jr’s mother-in-law, stayed alone in the house to show it to prospective buyers. One day, Bela Lugosi came by to view it after working at the studios. Meadows was scared her out of her wits, even though Lugosi was gentlemanly. The Holly Chateau was eventually sold to Thomas Glover in 1955.

The fate of the house remained in question until Milt Larsen, a writer on the NBC game show, Truth or Consequences and his brother William, obtained the house for use as a club for magicians – a long-time dream of their father. After months of restoration, the Lane mansion was transformed into what is today known as The Magic Castle.

On January 2, 1963, at 5 pm, the Magic Castle opened its doors to members. It became a mysterious mansion with secret panels, a piano played by a ghost and weird overtones of magic. The mystifying features of the place began with the entrance, a secret panel known but to members. The “Invisible Irma” room boasts a regular piano and plays tunes at a verbal command.

Original posters of Houdini, the Mysterious Dante, the Great Leon, Thurston’s “Wonder Show of the Earth” and Brush, “King of Wizards,” decorated the Blackstone Room, where card tables are provided for sleight-of-hand experts.

The Magic Castle

The mansion has been altered many times–both inside and out–since the days that the Lane’s lived there. Street lamps that adorn the driveway once dotted the original Victoria Pier in Venice. Decorative cast iron frieze work on the canopy overhanging the door was part of the entrance to the Masonic temple at Wilshire and La Brea. Paneling in the main dining room was taken from the shutters of the Norma Talmadge Building that used to stand on Sunset. And the chandeliers in the Palace of Mystery once hung in the first Bullock’s in Southern California.

What would Rollin and Katherine Lane think of the transformation of their mansion? The room where Rollin Lane died is now the Houdini Séance room – perhaps one day Rollin will attend (or already has) to whatever goes on there and make his thoughts known. In any event, the only way you can see this magical place is if you know a member. If you ever have the chance, take it. You won’t be disappointed.

Special thanks to George W. Siegel, the architectural historian for the Magic Castle and to Bill Goodwin, librarian and Lisa Cousins of the Magic Castle for their help with this article.


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The Story of the Sacketts of Hollywood

Saturday, October 21st, 2017


The extended Sackett family in front of the Sackett Hotel, in 1898. From left to right: Betsy Otis, H.D. Sackett’s aunt; Mrs. Sackett; Lyman Hathaway, cousin of Mary Sackett; William H. Sackett; unknown; Mary Sackett; Zella Sackett, married to George Dunlap; unknown; Lilly ? ; Dora Miller. (LAPL)

Horace David Sackett, whose family came to America from England in 1831, was born in Blandford, Massachusetts on December 29, 1843, the son of Leverett and Mary Culver Sackett. When he was eighteen years old, he went to Suffield, Connecticut and started a flourishing general merchandise and farming business that lasted for several years.

On January 15, 1873, Sackett married Ellen Minerva Lyman (b. July 24, 1848) and became the parents of five children, Mary Mariah (b. July 8, 1875), William (b. June 22, 1876), Warren Lyman (b. August 30, 1882), Zella Myra (b. June 11, 1883), and Emily (b. March 1885).

Sackett was a squat, spare, busy man with a short beard. He was cheerful and kindly but firm in his convictions. In 1887, with $10,000 in his pocket, he left Connecticut with his family and moved to Los Angeles. There he heard about land in the North Cahuenga Valley being subdivided for business and residential purposes. This new development called Hollywood was without lights, telephones, paved streets or other modern improvements.

The developer, Harvey Henderson Wilcox and his wife Daeida were looking for men willing to build up the area and attract new residents. Sackett’s daughter Mary recalled that her family was one of the first families in the area. “Mr. Wilcox subdivided his 160-acre ranch and named it Hollywood,” Mary recalled years later. “Both our families settled down there in May, 1888 when I was 12.”

Each lot was going for a fixed price of $1,000 each. But Wilcox gave Sackett, free of charge, three, sixty-five foot lots facing the assigned business area at Cahuenga Avenue and the southwest corner of Prospect (now Hollywood Boulevard), if Sackett made certain improvements before the dummy line (the old steam engine with the open car) reached Wilcox Avenue. .


By 1888, the railroad was functioning, and Sackett built a three-story hotel building (above) of wood with a mansard roof, consisting of a corner store, and Prospect Avenue lobby and parlor. Behind that was the culinary department. The stairway in the lobby led to the upper two stories with eighteen rooms and a bathroom. Behind the hotel was a barn and corral; surrounding the store and lobby front was a cypress hedge and several two-year-old pepper trees planted by Wilcox, giving the place a very cozy appearance.

The Sacketts ran the first hotel in the Cahuenga Valley, and the second general merchandising establishment within the corporate limits of Hollywood. He also kept a few horses for his clientele and gardens to the blocks east and south of the store, to sell produce in his store.

Sackett bought the lot south of the hotel, two lots facing west on Wilcox Avenue, and south of the two northern lots in the row. Here he ran an overnight and breakfast place for city visitors and a bachelors’ roost for the young single men of the village. At his store, Sackett sold butter and eggs, crackers and cheese, overalls, jumpers, boots and shoes, ribbons and yardage, and canned goods that were becoming popular.

Another Hollywood pioneer associated with the hotel was Dr. Edwin O. Palmer, who later wrote a history of the area. Upon his arrival in California, he rented a room and an office there for his medical practice.

Sackett’s daughter, Mary and her siblings, attended the old Temple Street School through grade school, but didn’t go to the downtown high school because they couldn’t get there on time. Later, Sackett added another store, where in a corner nook he opened Hollywood’s post office; Mary became Hollywood’s first postmistress, running her practiced eye over the little rack of boxes. For her duties, Mary was paid as high as $5 per month.

Tragedy hit the Sackett family in 1899 when his son, William died unexpectedly at 23 years of age and was buried at Rosedale, as there would not be a cemetery in Hollywood for another two years.

Due to competition from the new Hollywood Hotel, built three years earlier at the northwest corner of Prospect and Highland, Sackett closed his hotel in 1905. He sold the property to Henry Gillig, but it remained unoccupied for the next five years except for one store room on the first floor.

In 1907, Sackett built a six bedroom house on property he had bought at 1642 Wilcox Avenue. Later that same year, in the reception hall of their home, Sackett’s daughter Zella, married George Dunlap, the mayor of Hollywood at the time, and the city’s last since Los Angeles annexed Hollywood in 1910.

In 1910, J.P. Creque, one of the wealthiest men in Hollywood, bought the former hotel property for $28,000 from the estate of Henry Gillig, who was now deceased. Creque razed the abandoned hotel and erected a fireproof two-story cream brick structure that cost approximately $30,000. The Hollywood National Bank leased a portion of the new building; there were three other stores facing on Prospect. The second floor had offices with wide hallways and tile flooring. .

The J.P. Creque Building being built in 1911 on the site of the Sackett Hotel at the southwest corner of Hollywood and Cahuenga.

In 1931, the Creque Building was enlarged by adding two stories; the Art Deco building at 6400-6408 Hollywood Boulevard, is still on the site. .

The Creque Building as it appears today on the site of the Sackett Hotel.

Now retired from the mercantile business, Sackett devoted himself to the management of his private interests and several properties that he owned. He took an active part in the public affairs of Hollywood and Los Angeles for many years and was a man of ability and worth. He was a staunch democrat and was interested in politics, especially in local matters.

It was in their Wilcox Avenue home that Horace Sackett died in 1918, and was buried next to his son at Rosedale. In 1929, his wife Ellen followed him in death at the age of eighty from heart disease.

At the time of Ellen’s death, the area around Hollywood Boulevard and Wilcox had become mostly commercial, and land was being bought for business purposes. Mary Sackett was living in the family home, but instead of demolishing the house, she sold the property in 1929 and moved the house to the San Fernando Valley which was residential.

Remarkably, the old Sackett house is still standing at 10739 Kling Street in North Hollywood. The 1908 residence looks somewhat out of place next to the small bungalow homes built mostly in the 1930s. .

The altered, but original Horace Sackett home, once located at 1642 Wilcox Avenue in Hollywood, is now at 10739 Kling Street in North Hollywood. PLEASE NOTE: This is a private residence. DO NOT DISTURB the occupants.

The rear of the former Sackett home.

On Wilcox, a row of storefronts still stands in place of the old Sackett homestead.

Mary Sackett never married, and in her old age claimed that she never touched liquor, tea or coffee. “I’m an old maid and proud of it,” she insisted to a reporter in 1950. “I’ve never worn a bit of make-up, yet I had three proposals. Men have taken me out but usually with a chaperone. I wouldn’t let them kiss me good-night and to this day no man has ever been allowed to put his arm around me.”

In 1954, at the age of 78, Mary appeared on an episode of the  You Bet Your Life television show with host Groucho Marx and laughingly ruffled the comedians feathers. She asked Groucho to put away his trademark cigar, either lit or unlit, and he grudgingly complied. .

Mary Sackett, 74, spars with comedian Groucho Marx on “You Bet Your Life.”

Click HERE to watch the episode. Mary’s segment begins at 18:45

When asked if a man might yet come along and sweep her off her feet, Mary replied, “Not a chance. I’m too set in my ways. I don’t want any man cluttering up my house.” When Mary died on January 31, 1969 at age 93 in Rosemead, California, she was the last remaining Sackett. She was buried in the family plot at Rosedale Cemetery. .

The Sackett family marker at Rosedale Cemetery.

Mary Sackett’s marker at Rosedale Cemetery.

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L. Frank Baum — The Wizard of Cherokee Avenue

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017


L. Frank Baum, the author of numerous children’s classics including “The Wizard of Oz,” left his impression on the world – in particular the literary and film world. Few people know that Baum spent the last nine years of his life living in Hollywood and was one of its earliest residents.

At his home, located at 1749 N. Cherokee Avenue (at the corner of Yucca), which he christened “Ozcot,” Baum wrote many of his best loved “Oz” books, including “The Emerald City of Oz” (1910), “The Patchwork Girl of Oz” (1913), “The Lost Princess of Oz” (1917) and many more.

Lyman Frank Baum was born in Chittenango, New York on May 15, 1856. After graduating from Syracuse Academy in 1880, he found newspaper work. Two years later, he married Maud Gage of Fayetteville, New York. Baum was the editor of the Dakota Pioneer of Aberdeen, South Dakota, from 1888 to 1890, and the Chicago Show Window from 1897 to 1902. During that time, he wrote books and plays. His first effort was “Mother Goose in Prose,” published in 1897.

Next, Baum joined forces on a children’s book with his friend and artist, W. W. Denslow. “Father Goose, His Book,” published in 1899, was a best-seller. One of the five books he published in 1900, also based on stories he had told his sons and illustrated by Denslow, was “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” which instantly broke sale records and made Baum a celebrity.

More Oz books followed, and over the next two decades he wrote over 35 non-Oz books under various pseudonyms aimed at various audiences. Always looking for new channels for his creativity, Baum became interested in films. In 1909, he founded a company to produce hand-colored slides featuring characters from his Oz books. These were shown while he narrated the story, and an orchestra played background music.

Frank Baum and his wife lived here at 2322 Toberman Street with their son Frank, when they first moved to Los Angeles in January 1910 (NOTE: This is a private residence, please do not disturb the residents)

In failing health, Baum and his wife arrived in Los Angeles in January 1910 to create his own fairyland. Their son, Frank, was living at 2322 Toberman Street. The Baum’s lived there before renting an apartment on Park Grove Avenue near downtown.

Wanting their own home, Baum found the sparsely settled village called Hollywood, which at the time, was mostly citrus groves. He bought a plot of ground and built a two-story frame house that he christened “Ozcot.” In 1910, the street was known as Magnolia, but was renamed Cherokee two years later.

On the second floor, he had a long enclosed porch with a view of the distant mountains, and downstairs there was a large sunroom where he grew flowers. He built a large bird cage, big enough for a zoo, where he had hundreds of rare and exotic song birds. In his garden he planted roses, dahlias and chrysanthemums. Before long, he was recognized as a champion amateur horticulturist in Southern California.

Even though Baum had traveled the world, he developed a great affection for his new home: “Travels through Sicily, Italy, or a winter on the Upper Nile, all have their attractions but from what I have learned by actual experience, none of these countries compares with Southern California. There is a charm in the very atmosphere, an indefinable something which attracts and holds,” Baum once said.

At the time of his move to Hollywood, he was working on what he hoped would be the last “Oz” book, “The Emerald City of Oz.” Baum continued to turn out children’s stories at an amazing rate. To avoid flooding the market with books under his own name, he did one series after another, for both boys and girls, under the pen names – Floyd Akers, Edith Van Dyne, Captain Hugh Fitzgerald, Laura Bancroft, Suzanne Metcalf and Schuyler Stanton.

Baum’s arrival in Hollywood, just a year before the advent of motion pictures, made it inevitable that he would be drawn into the fledgling industry. An earlier attempt at filmmaking in Chicago lost him a great deal of money, and in June 1911 he was forced to declare bankruptcy. However, with royalties coming in from his books, he was by no means a charity case. In 1914, a venture into the film business, the Oz Film Company, produced six movies but there were severe distribution problems and that effort also failed, though not as disastrously.

The Oz Film Mfg Co. located at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Lodi.

The site as it looks today, only one block from Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Baum and his wife Maud lived quietly at Ozcot, gardening, writing stories, and answering the hundreds of letters he received from Oz-struck children.

In February of 1918, Baum took ill at Ozcot and was operated on at Angelus Hospital. Maud blamed his illness on the hard work of his newest novel, “The Tin Woodman of Oz,” which was due to be published in the fall.

Baum, now immobile due to his illness, was restricted to minor tasks throughout the day. The pressure and strain contributed to attacks of angina pectoris, as well as unpredictable gall bladder problems, and excruciating sharp pain jabs across his face.

In a coma for twenty-four hours, L. Frank Baum died at Ozcot at 7 p.m. on May 6, 1919, supposedly uttering his last words, “Now we can cross the Shifting Sands,” just a minute before expiring. Baum was survived by his wife Maud and four sons, Frank, Robert, Harry and Kenneth.

Baum’s funeral services were held at the Little Church of the Flowers at Glendale’s Forest Lawn Cemetery. Rev. E. P. Ryland, a close friend of the author, officiated and said of Baum: “He was a man who knew the heart of a child, and was a friend of men.”

The grave of L. Frank and Maude Baum and members of his family.

A quartet from the Los Angeles Athletic Club’s, Uplifters’, of which Baum was an organizer, sang several selections including, “Eternity,” with Harold Proctor as a soloist. The authors’ oldest son, Captain Frank J. Baum was in France at the time serving in World War I.

Two of Baum’s works, “The Magic of Oz” (1919) and “Glinda of Oz” (1920) were both published posthumously.

Maud Gage Baum continued to live at Ozcot and died there on March 6, 1953. After breaking her hip, she had been confined to bed the greater part of the last four years of her life. She was 91.

Ozcot was razed in the late 1950s and a non-descript apartment building replaced it. It’s doubtful that the current residents are aware of the literary history that occurred on this site.

Ozcot as it appeared in Baum’s life time.


The site of Ozcot as it is today.

NOTE: On August 15, 1939, The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland, premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theater – only 3 blocks from Ozcot.

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June Mathis: The Woman Who Discovered Valentino

Friday, December 5th, 2014

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

June Mathis, a short, thickset, rather plain woman with frizzy hair, became one of Hollywood’s most influential women during the silent era. An accomplished screenwriter, casting director and film editor, Mathis was the only female executive at Metro Studios, and at one time the highest paid film executive in Hollywood.

Born June Beulah Hughes in Leadville, Colorado on June 30, 1889, Mathis was the only child of Phillip and Virginia Hughes. Although available biographical records usually give her year of birth as 1892, census records appear to confirm the 1889 date. Her parents divorced when she was seven and while much of her childhood is vague, at some point her mother met and married William D. Mathis, a recent widower with three children. Ultimately she would take her step-father’s name.

Mathis’ first public incarnation was as a child actor in vaudeville and on Broadway. Her stage credits include the hit play, The Fascinating Widow with the famed female impersonator, Julian Eltinge. For thirteen years Mathis toured in numerous plays and vaudeville shows. In 1914, she moved to New York and took a writing course and entered a scriptwriting contest. This brought her several offers to write scenarios until Metro Studios hired her in 1918. At Metro, she quickly worked her way up to becoming chief of the studio’s script department. Her scripts incorporated a wide range of films including An Eye for an Eye (1918), Hearts Are Trumps (1920) and Polly with a Past (1920). ..



When Metro president Richard Rowland bought the rights to the popular war novel, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Mathis was placed in charge. It was through her influence that her friend and fledgling film director, Rex Ingram was hired as the film’s director. The film and the casting of Rudolph Valentino in the role of Julio, established both of their careers. Mathis picked Valentino for the role of Julio after seeing him in a small role in The Eyes of Youth (1919).

Until Mathis cast Valentino in The Four Horsemen, he was relegated to mostly bit parts and walk-ons. Several people have taken credit for Valentino’s success but it was this bit of casting that launched the Latin Lover’s career. At Metro, and later Paramount studios, Mathis was responsible for a string of Rudolph Valentino films including Blood and Sand (1922) and The Young Rajah (1922).

Mathis and Valentino maintained a very close relationship – some even suggested that they may have been romantically involved, but this is unlikely. In fact, actress Nita Naldi said that Mathis mothered Valentino and that they held each other in high regards. When Mathis’ version of the script for the ill-fated The Hooded Falcon failed to impress either Valentino or his wife, Natacha Rambova, Mathis ended their relationship.


After negotiations with producers of the Ben-Hur stage play, Samuel Goldwyn bought the screen rights to General Lew Wallace’s religious novel. Mathis, who had previously been with Metro and Lasky, was now Goldwyn’s head scenarist and was given sovereign control. Not only would Mathis adapt the screenplay, she was in charge of production and her first executive decision was to make the film in Italy. After a nationwide search it was decided to go with Mathis choice for Ben-Hur, George Walsh and her pick for director, Charles Brabin. Neither choice, however, was popular with the public nor with many in the film industry, but this proved how powerful Mathis was at the time.

Once the film company arrived in Rome, the production quickly began to deteriorate. Labor disputes delayed the building of many of the sets; Italian labor was inexpensive, but slow. Not only were the sets and costumes not ready, but the actors sat around or took advantage and made small tours of Europe. To make matters worse, Mathis was told to not interfere with Brabin on the set. Originally she believed that she was to supervise the production, but quickly learned that things were changing; Brabin would only allow her to approve or reject changes to the script.

In the meantime, nothing on the set seemed to go right. The sets cost a fortune but still looked cheap. The script wasn’t completed, and a lot of time and money was being wasted. The moral of the entire company was at an all-time low, and it appeared that Ben-Hur would be the biggest fiasco that Hollywood had ever seen.

During all of this, Metro, Goldwyn, and producer Louis B. Mayer were making plans to merge their studios. The first point of order for the new studio, now known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, was to try and save the fast-sinking Ben-Hur. Mayer, who was appointed as the head of the studio, told MGM’s president, Marcus Loew, that he would only take the job if June Mathis, Charles Brabin and George Walsh were removed. They also insisted that the script be rewritten. These demands meant that they would have to start from the beginning.

Mayer’s replacement for Brabin was director Fred Niblo, who felt the assembled cast was the most uninteresting and colorless he had seen and directly blamed Mathis. Walsh was replaced with Ramon Novarro and Mathis was unceremoniously fired and replaced by scenarists Bess Meredyth and Carey Wilson.

In statements to the press, Mathis held Charles Brabin responsible for the problems on Ben-Hur. She insisted that control of the picture was taken away from her by Brabin and she could no longer associate herself with the film.

During the few months that she was in Rome, Mathis met and fell in love with Sylvano Balboni, an Italian cameraman hired to work on the film. Mathis returned to Hollywood in August 1924 with Balboni in-tow, and married him the following December. Regardless of what transpired on Ben-Hur, Mathis continued to work. Shortly after returning from Rome she signed with First National where she scripted several Colleen Moore films including Sally (1925), The Desert Flower (1925) and Irene (1926). ..



When Rudolph Valentino’s last film, The Son of the Sheik (1926) premiered in Los Angeles, Mathis was there and the two had a heartfelt reunion. It was only a few months later that Valentino died suddenly and Mathis offered her own crypt at Hollywood Cemetery as a temporary resting place for the dead film idol.

Over the following year, Mathis developed health problems, including high blood pressure and was placed on a restricted diet by her doctors. That summer, she was in New York with her grandmother, Emily Hawks. On the evening of July 26, 1927, disregarding her doctor’s orders, she had a heavy meal before taking her grandmother to the 48th Street Theatre to watch Blanche Yurka perform in The Squall. In the play’s final act, Mathis suddenly cried out, “Oh, mother, I’m dying,” and threw her arms around her grandmother while sobbing convulsively.

Attendants ran to Mathis seat and carried her outside to the theater alley alongside the playhouse and laid her on the concrete road. A physician that was in the audience examined her and announced that she was dead. Her grandmother was inconsolable, pleading with her to speak while Mathis’ body lay in the alley waiting for the medical examiner to arrive.

The following week back in Hollywood, Valentino’s body was moved to the neighboring crypt to make room for Mathis. They lay next to each other in eternity to this day. .





While it’s true that only hard-core film enthusiasts recognize June Mathis’ name today, she hasn’t been totally ignored. For instance, you cannot mention Rudolph Valentino, director Rex Ingram or such film classics as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse without discussing Mathis’ and her contributions to film history?

Without a doubt there have been a number of women among Mathis’ contemporaries who yielded various levels of power. These would include writers Frances Marion, Bess Meredyth and Anita Loos and of course directors Lois Weber and Dorothy Arzner, among others.

For some reason, shortly after the advent of sound, women seemed to lose much of their influence that they achieved during the silent era. The only women that seemed to wield any power were gossip columnist Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, who, while not directly running a studio, could definitely influence the powers-that-be.

Today it’s not unusual to see a woman in a position of authority or even running a studio. Examples over the years have included Amy Pascal, Chairman of Sony Pictures; Anne Sweeney, president of Disney-ABC Television; Gail Berman, president of Paramount Pictures; Stacey Snider, co-chairman and CEO of DreamWorks SKG; Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment; Dana Walden, President of 20th Century Fox Television, and of course, there’s media mogul, Oprah Winfrey. June Mathis would be proud.


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Hollywood’s first Mayor

Sunday, September 19th, 2010


Sanford Rich, the first Mayor of Hollywood


 Sanford Rich (far left, standing) at the dedication of the Hollywood Post Office, October 30, 1925 (LAPL)


By Allan R. Ellenberger


Over the past fifty years, Hollywood has had its share of honorary mayors, the last being the ever-popular Johnny Grant. However, not many know that Hollywood had two official elected mayors between the years 1903 and 1910 when it merged with Los Angeles in order to obtain an adequate water supply. The first of those two mayors was Sanford Rich.


Sanford Rich was born at Fort Wayne, Indiana on September 30, 1840, one of five children raised on a farm. He was educated at regional pioneer schools with no other formal learning and would forever regret hi s lack of higher education. He ran away from home at age 16 to escape his stepmother and worked on a relative’s farm. He started a small meat business in Fort Wayne, sold it and moved to Chicago where he again opened a butcher shop.


In 1878 he returned to Fort Wayne where he built the Rich Hotel and managed the retail store of the Swift Packing Company. Soon he moved to San Jose, California, to manage the Swift plant there, and then returned to Chicago. In 1900 he retired, came to Los Angeles and rented a house on Jefferson Street.



Looking east at the intersection of Hollywood and Gower. The Rich home is at the far right. (LAPL)


Above is the same intersection today. The Rich home once stood on the far right corner below the tall billboard.


In 1901, Rich bought the Goode property which was east of Gower Street and south of Hollywood Boulevard (then Prospect Avenue), where he built his home at 6048 Hollywood Boulevard. The ambitious home he built for his wife Elizabeth was furnished in such regal style that it became one of the town’s showplaces. Though the house was too large for two people (one child was born to them but died in infancy), eventually 35 relatives arrived in Hollywood beginning with his brother Edwin and his family. The home was planned for their hospitality and enjoyment.


At this point, Rich who was in his 60s, was a man of medium height, firm build, gray hair and eyes, serious in demeanor, retiring disposition, a sincere Christian gentleman, definite in his opinions though reticent in expression. He looked the efficient business man – mature and experienced, quick and alert always well groomed, meeting everyone with a friendly smile and handshake.


Although never a politician, Rich was part of the successful effort to incorporate Hollywood as a sixth class city on November 14, 1903, and was elected as a trustee for the new corporation. On November 25, after several more bond issues were hammered out, Sanford Rich was elected by popular vote to be Hollywood’s first mayor. The following April, Rich was reelected  by a unanimous vote. Rich presided over approximately 1,000 citizens during his term as mayor. Hollywood had only one other mayor, George H. Dunlop, before the community was annexed to the city of Los Angeles in 1910.


Rich soon recognized real property values and during his thirty years of real estate activity subdivided twenty-three separate tracts in Hollywood, among which were: northeast corner of Bronson and Franklin. Southeast corner of Bronson and Franklin, northeast Hollywood and Vine to Franklin; northeast corner Sunset and Gower, except the corner lot; southeast corner Vine and Sunset; south of Fountain east of Gower; west of Argyle near Selma; the tracts ranging in size from two acres in the last to sixty acres north of Los Feliz.


Besides being Hollywood’s first mayor, Rich was one of the organizers of the Board of Trade, chairman of the first Board of Trustees of the City of Hollywood, Director of the Hollywood National Bank and Citizens’ Savings Bank, and deacon of the Hollywood Christian Church where he made considerable gifts.


Many times over the years Rich would attend official Hollywood functions as Hollywood’s first mayor, including the dedication of the new Post Office, the occasional ground breaking ceremony and Hollywood’s annual birthday celebration which was held at Plummer Park.


Sanford Rich home at 6048 Hollywood Boulevard (demolished) (Courtesy of Felicia Korengel)


Family members recalled the Rich home – as the Mayor’s residence – was splendid with lovely satin divans and drapes and elegant furniture. “Uncle San and Aunt Lizzie” were favorites and the children recalled Aunt Lizzie in her black satin dresses and tiny black satin shoes. Her eyes were so blue and seemed to be always smiling. Lizzie died on May 25, 1926 and was buried in the family plot at Hollywood Cemetery. Within a year, Rich was remarried to Sarah Miller, who was also recently widowed.


On June 9, 1930, Sanford Rich died at the age of 89, after being diagnosed with pneumonia a few days earlier. The funeral was held at the Hollywood Christian Church, 1717 N. Gramercy Place. A deeply religious man, Rich left his valuable home and other property on Hollywood Boulevard to the church, of which he was a member for 31 years, with the stipulation:


“We want it to be clearly understood by the present and succeeding Official Boards that none of the proceeds of the above described property be used as salary or compensation for any minister or missionary who while so employed in his teachings or practices opposes or fails to advocate the pleas of the people known as Christians or Disciples of Christ…”







Sanford Rich was buried next to his first wife Elizabeth at Hollywood Cemetery.



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