Posts Tagged ‘Joseph M. Schenck’

The story of Rudolph Valentino’s borrowed grave

Saturday, August 19th, 2017

 

 

Once the late silent film star Rudolph Valentino had been interred and the obsequies completed, the thought of how the actor would be remembered was foremost in everyone’s mind. The city of Chicago, home of the infamous “Pink Powder Puffs” editorial, formed the Rudolph Valentino Memorial Association in the hopes of erecting a remembrance of some kind. The Arts Association of Hollywood proposed a monument that would be the forerunner of a series of memorials to pioneers of the film industry. A committee of local Italians, which included director Robert Vignola, Silvano Balboni, and his wife, screenwriter June Mathis, suggested the construction of an Italian park on Hollywood Boulevard with a memorial theater and a large statue of Valentino as its central feature. Despite those grandiose projects, no memorials materialized—and it slowly became apparent that the same would happen with Valentino’s final resting place.

Valentino and his manager, George Ullman

After Valentino’s death, a decision could not be made as to where the actor’s body would finally rest. George Ullman, Valentino’s manager, was confident that Alberto, the actor’s brother and the person who would have the final say, would consent to interring the body in Hollywood. The Mayor of Castellaneta, Valentino’s birthplace, cabled Alberto imploring him to have the actor’s body returned there for burial with ceremony. Valentino’s sister Maria, who at first wanted her brother brought back to Italy, later concurred with the Hollywood delegation, thanks in part to the suggestion of William Randolph Hearst. To solve the problem—at least temporarily—June Mathis offered her own crypt at Hollywood Cemetery’s Cathedral Mausoleum until an appropriate memorial could be decided upon or built.

A movement was started for the erection of a worthy memorial that women admirers wanted to be “everlasting.” Ullman and Joseph Schenck, head of United Artists and Valentino’s boss, formed a committee called the Valentino Memorial Fund with other producers, Carl Laemmle, M.C. Levee and John W. Considine Jr. Appeals were made to the public to donate one dollar each; memorial societies were organized in New York and Chicago, and were expected to extend to other cities around the world. Ullman sent out one-thousand letters to members of the film colony in which he expressed his feelings that the “success of the memorial will be a tribute not only to Rudolph Valentino, but to the motion picture industry, as a whole.”

The outlook appeared to be a success. Letters deploring the death of Valentino poured in by the thousands. Certain that sufficient contributions would be forthcoming, the committee authorized architects to submit designs for a mausoleum, with an estimated cost placed at $10,000.

However, the public response was not what they anticipated. A check for $500 came from an English noble woman. Other checks for $100 came from actors Ernest Torrence and William S. Hart. From the one-thousand letters that Ullman sent, fewer than a half-dozen replies were received. The committee collected approximately $2,500, half of which came from America; the major donations came from England, Germany, Italy, India, and South America.

Valentino and June Mathis

In the meantime, June Mathis died in New York (less than a year later). When Valentino’s body was placed in her crypt, Mathis had said, “You many sleep here Rudy, until I die.” Now that time had come; a decision had to be made about what to do with Valentino’s remains. As a good-will gesture, Silvano Balboni offered to have Valentino’s casket moved to his crypt next to Mathis’ until the Valentino estate ironed out its problems. On August 8, 1927, cemetery workers entered the Cathedral Mausoleum and, what proved to be one last time, moved Valentino’s remains to the adjoining crypt, number 1205.

Artist’s conception of the planned tomb for Rudolph Valentino at Hollywood Cemetery.

 

Artist’s conception of the front and overview of Valentino’s planned memorial.

While public memorials were still being considered, Valentino’s body lay in a borrowed tomb. Photoplay magazine published plans for a proposed tomb by architect Matlock Price in the November 1926 issue. The design incorporated an exedra, a half-circle of columns standing serene and dignified against a dark background and curving towards the observer. Within that half-circle, a “heroic” bronze figure of Valentino as the Sheik, seated on an Arabian horse, towered above the onlooker. Following the curve of the exedra, a broad bench sat under two pergolas running across the ends of the terrace, which was paved with red Spanish tile.

These plans also went nowhere, and a permanent mausoleum for Valentino never materialized. Ullman hoped that the City of Los Angeles would provide the plot for a grave at Hollywood Cemetery and the $2,500 that was collected could be used for a bust of the actor to rest on a granite stand.

The statue “Aspiration,” dedicated to Valentino’s memory, shortly after it was dedicated. It still stands today in De Longpre Park.

Instead, in May 1930, a memorial to Valentino was finally erected, not at Hollywood Cemetery, but in De Longpre Park in central Hollywood; the only one of its kind dedicated to an actor in the film capitol.

Ironically, fans still flocked to his crypt (reportedly, Valentino is still one of the most visited grace sites today). But not always reverently. Once, a marble pedestal that stood before his crypt was overturned and broken to bits. Some of the pieces were carried away by souvenir hunters. Tourists would come, gaze at Valentino’s marker, then break flowers from the baskets and hide them in their clothing, as keepsakes.

Some attempts to remember Valentino have been positive. In London, a roof garden at the Italian Hospital was opened and dedicated to Valentino. Paid for by British money, it was the first attempt to perpetrate Valentino’s memory.

Finally, in April 1934, after Valentino’s body lay in a borrowed tomb for almost eight years, Silvano Balboni sold the crypt to Alberto. Balboni returned to Italy and never returned to the United States; Valentino now had his own resting place.

An early memorial to Valentino at his gravesite.

One wonder’s why the funds for the hoped-for resting place did not happen after Valentino’s death. The actor’s estate at the time could not cover the cost; it would not be fluid for several years. But certainly, his fellow actors who called him “friend,” could have pooled their money, or, any one of them could have paid the cost on their own. It was a mystery then and remains so today.

Nevertheless, every year on August 23rd at 12:10 p.m. (the time that Valentino died in New York), scores of fans gather near his crypt at Hollywood Forever Cemetery to remember the man. Regardless of the circus atmosphere that once prevailed at these events during the past ninety years, whether it be reports of the actor’s ghost or the appearance of mysterious, dark-veiled women, it is hoped that somehow the spirit of Rudolph Valentino, the “Great Lover,” now rests in peace.

If you are in the Los Angeles-Hollywood area on Wednesday, August 23, 2017, drop by the Rudolph Valentino Memorial at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The service is held at the Cathedral Mausoleum and begins at 12:10 p.m.; the time of Valentino’s death in New York. Arrive early as seats go quickly. See you there.

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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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Norma Talmadge talks

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

CELEBRITY FIRST PERSON

An autobiography by Norma Talmadge

 

 

 

This following article appeared in the Los Angeles Times in 1917.  

 

By Norma Talmadge

 

I am 20 years of age and therefore much too young to write an autobiography. However, my short life has been a stage of many interesting, and, I might well say, happy occurrences, and of these I am quite willing to make you my confidant.

 

I was born at Niagara Falls, where I spent the first ten years of my childhood amid most pleasant scenes. Indeed, when I am in a pensive mood my earliest and fondest recollections go back to the days I spent at the most beautiful spot in the whole world, the objective of all globe-trotters, the origin of the slogan, “See America First.”

 

Through force of circumstances our family moved to New York City. The contrast between Niagara Falls and the noisy city was indeed great. But as time wore on I soon grew to like my new home almost as well as my old one.

 

At school, one of those little private schools where men are barred from the premises, I had great fun. Pillow fights, night parties, secret smuggling of love letters and private theatricals. These were but a few of the many happy events of my boarding school days.

 

How I chose motion pictures as a profession is still a wonder to me. If I remember correctly, the nucleus of my ardent desire was formed at a show six years ago, when I was impressed by a picture I saw that I made up my mind to apply for a job the very next day. Accordingly, bright and early Saturday morning – you see I even remember the day – I was up just as determined as the night before.

 

I was literally jostled onto the screen, for when I reached the studio numerous stage hands were vigorously shifting scenery and I was caught in a whirlpool of white-overalled humanity and scenic flats, with their backgrounds of gorgeous ornamentations embracing interior sets, and pushed into the heart of studio activity.

 

I was only a little girl then and therefore had to put on a long skirt to make me look older, and I was so excited I got all tangled up in its folds.

 

But I felt quite at ease when a woman scenario writer was so kind as to notice me and help me get an extra part. They seemed to like me, for I was put in stock at once at a salary of $25 per week.

 

Since then I have made several important advances which have finally terminated in what I consider my greatest achievement – my marriage to Joseph M. Schenck and the formation of my own producing company.

 

Check out the new Norma Talmadge DVD release from KinoThe Norma Talmadge Collection featuring Kiki (1926) and Within the Law (1923). Click here for more information.

 

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