Posts Tagged ‘Claudette Colbert’

Hollywood’s “Jinx Mansion”

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

 

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

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

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

The builder and first resident of the “jinx mansion” was George A. Ralphs, the founder of Ralph’s grocery store, the largest food retailer in Southern California. There’s probably no one in Los Angeles that has not shopped at a Ralphs store at one time.

George Albert Ralphs was born in Joplin, Missouri in 1850. His family moved to California on a prairie schooner with a yoke of oxen when he was a boy. In Kansas they joined a caravan and when they reached Colorado they were attacked by Indians. Half of the caravan became separated in the fight, and nothing was ever heard from them. It was presumed that they were massacred.

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

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

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


The Ralphs mansion as it looked shortly after being constructed

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

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

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

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

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

However, the “jinx” continued.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Norma Talmadge and Joseph M. Schenck

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

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

During 1932 alone, the Schenck divorce rumors were many and were announced and denied several times. One time she planned on going to Reno and several months later it was reportedly a Mexican divorce. In the meantime, there was an affair with comedian George Jessel until finally in April 1934 Talmadge and Schenck were divorced in Juarez, Mexico. Three weeks later Norma married Jessel.

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

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

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

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

Notice for the Joseph Schenck auction

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

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

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


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

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

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That Wonderful Mother of Mine…

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

 HOLIDAYS

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Here are the Mothers who stood behind the stars of the 1920s–the women whose love and understanding guided them to success

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Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Maude Moll Rogers

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Maude Rogers, the mother of Charles “Buddy” Rogers, was born in Olathe, Kansas. Her father was a blacksmith, treasurer of the county and hotel owner. She had one sister and two brothers. After graduation from high school, she was employed in the town post office. Later she was organist in one of the Olathe churches. Her marriage to Bert Rogers, editor of the town paper, took place on Christ Day in 1900. Mrs. Rogers died in Olathe, Kansas in 1960.

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Jean Arthur and her mother, Johana Nelson Greene

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Johana Nelson Greene, the mother of Jean Arthur, was born in Dakota Territory before it became South Dakota. She spent her early days in the midst of the adventures of the early West. Mrs. Greene always wanted to be a singer but the opportunity never came along. She lived on her father’s farm and married H. S. Greene, a photographer. His business took him to New York and various parts of the East.

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Gary Cooper and his mother, Alice Brazier Cooper

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Alice Brazier Cooper, the mother of Gary Cooper, was born in Kent, England, and went to a church school. With her three borthers and one sister, she spent much of her earlier childhood on or near the sea. After graduation, she went to Helena, Montana on a visit. She had planned to make a tour of the world but she met Judge Charles Henry Cooper and married him.

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Ramon Novarro and his mother, Leonor Gavilan Samaniego

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Leonor Gavilan Samaniego, the mother of Ramon Novarro, was born in the town of Leon, Mexico. There Ramon’s mother was educated and there she spent her childhood. When she was twenty-two years old, she married Mariano N. Samaniego, a dentist. She became the mother of twelve boys and girls, ten of whom survived. She died in Hollywood in 1949.

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William Haines and his mother, Laura Matthews Haines

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Laura Matthews Haines, the mother of William Haines, was born in Staunton, Virginia. When she was seventeen, she married George A. Haines. The newlyweds made their home in Staunton, where they remained until moving to Richmond in 1918. In 1929, they joined their son in Hollywood.

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Richard Arlen and his mother, Mary Clark Van Mattemore

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Mary Clark Van Mattemore, the mother of Richard Arlen, was born on a farm near St. Paul, Minnesota, the daughter of a road builder. In the family were two brothers and two sisters. Her marriage to James Van Mattemore took place shortly after her graduation and continued to live in St. Paul.

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Claudette Colbert and her mother, Jeanne Colbert

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Jeanne Colbert, the mother of Claudette Colbert, was born in Paris, France and was an artist before her marriage. Several years after Claudette was born, the family came to America. The Colbert’s lived in New York.

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Joan Crawford and her mother, Anna Johnson La Sueur

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Anna Johnson La Sueur, the mother of Joan Crawford, was born in Medora, Illinois. After her marriage she made her home in Kansas City. She was the mother two children, Lucille (Joan) and a son, Hal. She died in Hollywood in 1958.

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Shirley and Claudette at the Oscars

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

AMPAS HISTORY

Shirley Temple holds Claudette Colbert’s Oscar for “It Happened One Night”

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The Stars Happiest Christmas

Friday, December 25th, 2009

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

Classic stars recall their happiest yule

 

 

Claudette Colbert (above) poses on Vine Street next to her image emblazoned on a Christmas decoration in the heart of Hollywood. The two tall buildings on the right in the background are at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine.

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

Just like anyone else, to film stars there is always just one Christmas that stands out above all others. In December 1932, several stars were asked about their most memorable Christmas.

 

The previous Christmas for Neil Hamilton competed with one when he was seven years old: “What with a new baby and a new house and the baby’s first Christmas tree, last year was hard to cap,” said Hamilton. “But for sheer unadulterated happiness I must remember the gorgeous Indian suit they gave me when I was seven years old. I strut when I remember it to this day. I was the reincarnation of Sitting Bull.”

 

James Dunn said a pool table presented to him when he was 14 still stood out as the most stylish event of his life. On that Christmas morning he invited all the boys in the neighborhood to play pool and they were still at it long past bedtime.

 

It was a Christmas bicycle that stood out for Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. He was eight years of age and had been demanding a bike from Santa since he was five. He’s almost given up hope when the family weakened. “It was a Rolls-Royce to me,” Fairbanks said.

 

Bette Davis claimed that no ecstasy since had surpassed the Christmas on which she acquired a huge Teddy Bear, handed to her from the very top of a big tree. “I have loved that Teddy all my life and still him,” she said.

 

It was a gorgeous box of paints, brushes, palettes all complete including a real artist’s smock, which made Claudette Colbert ecstatic when she was a small girl. She had always loved drawing and that Christmas saw the family’s recognition of her artistic yearnings.

 

Gary Cooper said the Christmas in which he and his family were snowed in on a cattle ranch in Montana stands our as his sweetest. No turkey, no shopping — a blizzard cut them off from everything. But the family decided to make their own fun and made presents by themselves out of any old odds and ends. “The least expensive and the jolliest Christmas I ever hope to enjoy,” he said.

 

A pair of rubber boots and a sled marked the most exciting Christmas for William Collier, Jr., who until that time, had to be content with a stocking encasing an orange, nuts and popcorn. He was nine years of age when the miracle occurred. And it was Marian Nixon’s very first watch, waiting on the breakfast table, which made one Christmas forever notable for her. In the same way a coaster-brake bike with a fancy headlight presented when he was 12 years old, marked one hilarious Christmas for John Boles.

 

Marie Dressler remembered a certain Christmas fifteen years earlier when, because her dearest friend was in the hospital, she took a tree, goodies and all the packages to the hospital between the matinee and the evening performance, and Christmassed at the there.

 

Joan Crawford, without hesitation, said, “Oh, Christmas 1925. I hadn’t seen my people in Kansas City for so long. I had just signed my contract with MGM and they paid my fare to the coast via Kansas City. So I went home in triumph — the biggest thrill of my life.”

 

It was 1919 that meant everything to Ramon Novarro. After a bus-boy job in New York, he was back in Los Angeles with his family and was celebrating his very first picture role. “We had an utterly perfect Mexican Christmas,” he remembered.

 

But to Maurice Chevalier, escaping from a German prison camp, rejoining  his mother in Paris and receiving medical attention for his wounds — and the glorious award of the Croix de Guerre made Christmas 1918, the most memorable one for him.

 

Katherine Hepburn recalled an ecstatic Christmas when her father built her a little theater of her own in the back yard when she was about 12.

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Claudette Colbert’s Caramel Custard

Monday, August 10th, 2009

CELEBRITY RECIPES

Claudette Colbert

 

Claudette Colbert

 

 CLAUDETTE COLBERT

Caramel Custard

 

Scald 3 cups rich milk. Melt 1/2 cup of sugar in iron frying pan and stir constantly until light brown. Add 1/4 cup boiling water and stir until dissolved. Now add milk. Pour the hot mixture over 3 slightly beaten eggs and place in double boiler. Cook over hot (not boiling) water until mixture coats the spoon, stirring constantly. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Chill and serve ice cold in small glass dishes.

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