Posts Tagged ‘George Raft’

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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New Biography on Joyce Compton

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

BOOKS

The Real Joyce Compton:

Behind the Dumb Blonde Movie Image

 

Joyce Compton bookcover

 

“People who like films and stars of that era, from the 1920s on through the 1950s, I think, would like to have such a personally-written account of some of the highlights of an actress’s life.  Most picture us all as rich and famous and never hear of another side.  I’ve even thought of the title: The Real Joyce Compton: Behind the Dumb Blonde Movie Image.  Sound good?  It’s a thought.”

 

–Excerpt of a letter from Joyce Compton to

Michael G. Ankerich, 27 January 1988

 

The Real Joyce Compton: Behind the Dumb Blonde Movie Image is the story that Joyce Compton, one of the screen’s finest comediennes and most versatile actresses, wanted told.

 

Her career, which consisted of an estimated 200 films, stretched from 1925 to 1957.  Breaking into films during the silent era, she appeared in a string of ingénue roles, imagining herself as a new Mae Murray, but it was after the beginning of sound that Compton found her niche in comedy.

 

In her own words, she recounts her frustrations over studio politics and shares her experiences of working and socializing with such screen favorites as Clara Bow, Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich, Joel McCrea, George O’Brien, John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Johnny Mack Brown, Janet Gaynor, and George Raft.

 

Compton opens up about her often overly protective parents, her off-screen romances, her one heartbreaking attempt at marriage, her deep religious faith, and her struggle to support her family after her film career ended.

 

With candor and insight that only someone who was there can share, Compton discusses the transition from silents to talkies; working with incompetent directors in those early sound movies; living on locations; the competition she experienced with the “star” actresses of the studio; freelancing versus working under a studio contact; and the day-to-day life of an actress working in early Hollywood.

 

The Real Joyce Compton begins with a biography of the actress, written by co-author Michael G. Ankerich, based on formal interviews, conversations, and correspondence over their 10-year friendship. The book also contains a detailed filmography of Compton’s film appearances and is lavishly illustrated with over 80 photographs, many of which are from Compton’s own personal collection.

 

Ankerich is the author of Broken Silence: Conversations With 23 Silent Film Stars and The Sound of Silence: Conversations with 23 Stage and Screen Personalities Who Made the Transition from Silents to Talkies.

 

He is currently working on Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 22 Hard Luck Girls of the Silent Screen. Dangerous Curves, based partly on interviews with family, friends, and relatives, will feature such actresses as Agnes Ayres, Belle Bennett, Olive Borden, Gladys Brockwell, Grace Darmond, Marguerite de la Motte, Elinor Fair, Margaret Gibson, Juanita Hansen, Wanda Hawley, Natalie Joyce, Kathleen Key, Barbara La Marr, Martha Mansfield, Mae Murray, Mary Nolan, Marie Prevost, Lucille Ricksen, Dorothy Sebastian, Eve Southern,  Alberta Vaughn, and Clara Kimball Young.

 *****

Click here to purchase The Real Joyce Compton: Behind the Dumb Blonde Movie Image at Amazon

……….

Or from the publisher, BearManor Media

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The Story of Temple Drake

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

MIRIAM HOPKINS

The Story of Temple Drake

 

The Story of Temple Drake

 

The following is an unsourced review of the film,
The Story of Temple Drake (1933)

 

Those who are supposed to know about the motion picture business were pretty sure that Paramount would never be able to get a version of “Sanctuary” that would get past the censors. Yet Paramount did it and though the story is deodorized and generally spring-cleaned, it still carries the punch and wallop that it packed as a novel.

 

Miriam Hopkins, who is actually far too lovely for just one woman, has the role of the little southern girl and Jack La Rue bagged the role that George Raft turned down. William Gargan, who has certainly found his ideal working conditions in Hollywood, plays the man “who is too good to be married to anyone like me.” And, once more, he does a grand job with it.

 

“Sanctuary,” by William Faulkner, was labeled one of the most sensational stories ever written. Though much of the caustic characterizations must, of necessity, be lost on the way to the screen, there is still enough left to make this production one of the cinematic thrills of the season.

 

Miriam Hopkins bit off a large mouthful… and your reviewer certainly never thought that any real sympathy could be secured for the characters of Mr. Faulkner’s novel — they rang too strange and false — yet that is just what Miriam does. And she deserves your praise and attention.

 

We think you’d better go to see it.

 

Someone has downloaded the entire film onto the You Tube web site. If you haven’t seen the film, here is a chance to enjoy a classic pre-code film that is not available on DVD. NOTE: The film is broken up into approximately 10 minute segments.  Part 1 is below.

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Stars Paid to Smoke…

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

FILM HISTORY

Hollywood ‘paid fortune to smoke’

 

 

Tobacco firms paid huge amounts for endorsements from the stars of Hollywood’s “Golden Age”.

 

BBC News
September 25, 2008

 

Industry documents released following anti-smoking lawsuits reveal the extent of the relationship between tobacco and movie studios.

 

One firm paid more than $3m in today’s money in one year to stars.

 

Researchers writing in the Tobacco Control journal said “classic” films of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s still helped promote smoking today.

  

Virtually all of the biggest names of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s were involved in paid cigarette promotion, according to the University of California at San Francisco researchers.

 

They obtained endorsement contracts signed at the times to help them calculate just how much money was involved.

 

According to the research, stars prepared to endorse tobacco included Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, Joan Crawford, John Wayne, Bette Davis and Betty Grable.   (click on ‘Continue Reading’ for more)

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