Posts Tagged ‘paul muni’

The Hollywood Hat

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012


The Hollywood Hat: An Autographed Hat Holds the History of Early Hollywood



By Joe Biltman
Autograph Magazine 


“Can I have your autograph?”


The streets of Hollywood have teemed with autograph hunters for a century now. Brandishing an autograph book or scrap of paper, these collectors good-naturedly accost stars wherever they find them — on the street, in restaurants, at the supermarket, at gas stations, in elevators, in their cars when stopped at red lights, and even in restrooms.


Click here to continue reading…



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Pierre Collings tragic story

Sunday, February 13th, 2011


The tragic story of Pierre Collings




By Allan R. Ellenberger


Time, fame and money trip lightly in Hollywood, and the men and women who have them one day find themselves alone and penniless the next. So it was with Pierre Collings, screenwriter, whose screenplay of The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936) won him two Academy Awards in 1937. Sadly he would not survive to the end of that year.


The second eldest of five children, Lysander Pierre Collings was born on September 22, 1900, in Truro, Nova Scotia where his father Otto was a mining engineer. Otto and his wife Martha were both American citizens and once they returned to the states, had Pierre naturalized as an American citizen.


Collings entered motion pictures as a messenger boy at the Pickford-Fairbanks Studios when he was 17 years old. He became successively a cameraman [Alimony (1924) and Untamed Youth (1924)] at the Brunton Studios (now Paramount), an assistant director and then a writer. Among Collings early scripts were A Woman of the World (1925) and Good and Naughty (1926), both starring Pola Negri; The Grand Duchess and the Waiter (1926), with Adolph Menjou and Florence Vidor; the Louise Brooks classic, The Show Off (1926), and the continuity for the Marx Brothers’ Animal Crackers (1930).


Sadly, very little is known about Collings personal and professional life. In December 1926, Collings was married to Natalie Harris at New York’s Little Church Around the Corner. The couple was divorced in 1930. In 1928 Collings was scheduled to direct Alex the Great but for unknown reasons the film was taken over by Dudley Murphy.





Between 1924 and 1930, Collings kept relatively busy writing screenplays, however between 1930 and 1937 he only produced two screenplays, one of which was as an uncredited dialogue contributor on British Agent (1934) starring Leslie Howard and Kay Francis. It could be during this time that some of his personal problems began. In August 1935 he was arrested for drunk driving.


The following December he signed with Warner Bros. and was assigned, along with writer Sheridan Gibney, to write the screenplay for The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936), which was to star Paul Muni in the title role. During the production of the film, Collings mother, Martha died unexpectedly and was buried at Hollywood Cemetery.



The grave of Collings mother at Hollywood Forever Cemetery


The Story of Louis Pasteur would prove to be Collings biggest success professionally. Both he and Gibney were nominated for two Academy Awards for Original Story and for Screenplay. Reportedly, after finishing the screenplay Collings suffered a nervous breakdown and was not able to attend the ceremony on Oscar night. When Collings and Gibney won both awards, Gibney accepted the Oscars for his writing partner.


Soon after, Collings health improved enough for him to accept an assignment to write the screenplay for a projected Warner Bros. film, Houdini the Great which was scheduled to star George Raft. For whatever reason, the project never materialized. After this he had problems finding work again and started drinking and soon fell into more bad health and poverty. Stories circulated that he actually pawned one of his two Oscars in order to survive, but this cannot be confirmed. The following July, he was arrested on an intoxication charge that was filed by his landlady. He pleaded not guilty.



Pierre Collings died here at his father’s home at 12315 N. Huston Avenue in North Hollywood (PLEASE NOTE: This is a private residence. Please do not disburb the occupants)


Collings was working with songwriter Carrie Jacobs Bond on a proposed screenplay based on her popular song, “I Love You Truly” when he died from pneumonia at his father’s home in North Hollywood on December 21, 1937. His funeral was held at Pierce Brothers Chapel Hollywood and he was interred at Hollywood Cemetery near the body of his mother.



Pierre Collings grave at Hollywood Forever is located in Section 2W near the grave of Florence Lawrence.


Collings was already forgotten. The Los Angeles Times did not publish an obituary – only a listing of his name in the death notices. However, three weeks later, Lee Shipley, a columnist for the Times made this mention in his column:


“Little Pierre Collings, who wrote the script for Louis Pasteur, died the other day. His close friends tell me his decline in health resulted from heartache and despair because, after that truly great picture, he was given hardly any work. The producers thought one Louis Pasteur was great, through some accident, but the public wouldn’t stand for another picture like that – not when it could go to the next show house and see Ben Bernie.


“In fact, I think the sin of Hollywood is that it gathers genius from all the world and then says to it: ‘You mustn’t do your best or anything approaching it. Our public wouldn’t understand it.’”


Four months after Collings death, Charles Mackay, a wanna-be actor who was down on his luck was living at the Mark Twain Hotel in Hollywood. Mackay had graduated from Washington and Lee University the year before and decided to “try” Hollywood. His friends told him he should be an actor; his father, a prosperous St. Louis broker, told him he shouldn’t. He was told to go if he wanted, but don’t come home for help. Mackay decided to ignore his father and prove him wrong.


By April 1938, Mackay was down to his last quarter. His best prospect for finding lodging for the night was an afternoon working on a rock pile. He returned to his room sweaty, tired and discouraged. In hopes of finding a clean shirt, he looked through a closet reserved for the belongings of guests who left the hotel without paying their rent in advance. There Mackay discovered a threadbare blue sweater, and wrapped in the garment was Pierre Collings’ Oscar statuette.


Concerned that he would be arrested for the possible theft of the Oscar if he tried to return it to its owner, Mackay walked up to Hollywood Boulevard to think. By chance he ran into screenwriter Arthur Caesar, who himself won an Academy Award a few years earlier for Manhattan Melodrama (1934). He told Caesar his story and the writer took him and the Oscar to the Academy’s office where the secretary told him that Collings had died a few months earlier in poverty. It was assumed that, probably in need, Collings had been forced to leave the sweater and Oscar as hostage for his unpaid rent. The Academy gave Mackay $25 for the Oscar, told him to clean up, and they assumingly kept the Oscar.



Charles Mackay, center, is shown holding the Oscar given to Pierre Collings. At left is Donald Gledhill, scretary of the Academy, and at right is screenwriter Arthur Caesar.


During research for this article, I contacted the Academy and was told that Pierre Collings’ Oscar was not in their possession and there were no records of the transaction. It’s possible the unclaimed statue could be lying in a box somewhere in the Academy’s attic or, since his father was still living at the time, it was returned to him. In any event, both Oscars won by Collings that night are missing.


If you watch the Academy Awards ceremony in two weeks, when the award for Best Screenplay is presented, remember Pierre Collings – may he rest in peace.



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The Haunted Studio

Friday, October 30th, 2009


 Is a Hollywood film studio a set for the paranormal?


Hollywood Center Studios



By Allan R. Ellenberger


Many locations around Hollywood are reported to be haunted. There are theaters, hotels, night clubs and studios that all have their share of ghost stories. Whether or not you believe in ghosts, the possibility of a spirit continuing on after death is fascinating.


I admit to being a believer and am always looking for paranormal stories about Hollywood’s past. One story in particular, which originally had nothing to do with ghosts, caught my eye while searching through pages of microfilm. In this case a headline blared: “Death After Studio Party Called Accident by Police.” The story told about a 31-year-old studio electrician who received fatal injuries from a fall after a wrap party hosted and attended by several well-know film stars.


According to the news report, Edward W. Gray, the father of three, was found near death on the studio lot near midnight on April 4, 1946. He later died two minutes after reaching Hollywood Receiving Hospital. The first account stated that Gray may have been murdered, but a deputy coroner eventually discounted that theory. Upon examination, it was found that Gray suffered a fractured pelvis, numerous internal injuries, a skull fracture and facial injuries. The coroner said that such injuries could only be attributed to falling from a great height or, — being run over by an automobile! Huh?


Gray was found lying at the bottom of a 65-foot backdrop, along the top of which ran a catwalk. A ladder rose to the top at one end, and policy theorized that Gray had climbed to the top, then tumbled off.


Supporting this theory was the discovery of blood on a two-by four jutting from the backdrop fifteen-feet above the spot where Gray’s body was found and which would have been in the direct line of a fall from the catwalk. Oh, and Gray’s blood registered an alcohol content of .29 – today a .08 is considered intoxicated.


The studio where all this happened was a rental lot called General Service Studios, and now known as Hollywood Center Studios at 1040 N. Las Palmas Avenue. Founded in 1919 by set designer John Jasper (1876-1929) who built three production studios on 15 acres south of Santa Monica Boulevard. Billionaire-producer, Howard Hughes filmed Hell’s Angels here; the television shows, Ozzie and Harriett, Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies and the first two years of I Love Lucy also called this lot home. Shirley Temple made her film debut here and you may also remember this lot as the ill-fated Zoetrope Studios founded by Francis Ford Coppola in the early 1980s.



Edward Gray

Ghostly newspaper image of studio electrician, Edward Gray, who fell to his death at the Hollywood Center Studios. Does his ghost now haunt the rafters? 



I recalled stories about reported hauntings at this studio but could not remember what they were. I needed an expert so I contacted my friend, author and film historian, Laurie Jaccobson who, along with historian Marc Wanamaker are the authors of Hollywood Haunted: A Ghostly Tour of Filmland. If anyone would know, she would.


Laurie told me there were always stories of phenomenon on that particular lot including “cold spots, unexplained noises, unusual shadows on sound stages, lights going on and off, things being moved, etc all reported by guards, workers, maintenance workers and film workers on the lot.”


“There were also ‘problems’ with Stage 5,” Laurie recalled, “where Ozzie and Harriet was produced. Many say it happened all through the production. Others believe it is Ozzie himself — a workaholic who died before his time — who haunts the set.”


In the 1920s and 30s, the lot was known as Metropolitan Studios. In later years office workers reportedly heard talking in the empty offices on the second floor. “Those offices were occupied by comedy film pioneer Al Christie from 1925 to 1932,” Laurie said. “Second to Mack Sennett, Christie lost everything in the stock market crash, including his studio. He tried, but never regained his success or wealth. Now in death, he continues the work he’d been forced to give up.”


I found other reports on the internet, reportedly from a former stage manager who claimed the lot was haunted, “particularly on Stage 6, where a gaffer fell to his death decades ago.” He went on to describe the happenings:


“…when you went in to close up the stage for the night, turn off the work lights, secure all the doors, etc., you could hear foot steps in the perms (rafters) above you, following you as you moved from one part of the stage to another. When you stop, it stops. Freaking scary.”


Laurie Jacobson recalled a similar story but it involved a different stage.


“In 1946, a studio worker fell to his death on Stage 4 making the film Stairway to Hell,” she said. “For many years after, there were technical problems on that stage.”


That caught my attention since 1946 was the year that the electrician from my story fell to his death and the name of the film was the classic, Angel on My Shoulder, which, at the time it was being made, had a working title of – Stairway to Hell. It made me wonder if there could  be some truth to this haunting after all so I dug a little deeper.


Angel on My Shoulder


There were enough questions about whether Gray’s death was an accident so that an inquest was held. Reportedly, Gray and another friend were “uninvited guests” at ‘a gay party’ that was hosted by the film’s star, Paul Muni to celebrate the completion of the film. Neither Gray nor his friend had worked on the film but showed up anyway.


The party began at 6 pm and a bar was set up on the sound stage, and more than a score of tables had been arranged in front of the huge papier-mâché reconstruction of “Hell” – a familiar scene in the film.



Click on the above “Angel on My Shoulder” film clip which shows the “Hell” set where the wrap-party was held and where studio electrician, Edward Gray, fell to his death from the rafters above.



Angel on My Shoulder’s stars, Paul Muni and Anne Baxter were both called to give testimony at the inquest. Muni stated that he felt he could be of very little help, having left the party early.


“What was called ‘a gay party’ didn’t seem gay to me as I had been working all day and was very tired,” he told the jury. “Without seeming facetious, if that was a ‘gay party,’ I wonder what a dull one would be. All the people were tired. The idea was just to throw a little shindig to show good will. We were very tired, dog tired.”


“Did you see any drinking?” asked Dep. Dist. Atty. S. Ernest Roll.


“Oh, yes,” Muni replied. “Miss Baxter had milk, Miss (Joan) Blair had Coke, I had a scotch and soda, and Mrs. Muni had a sherry. Others went to the bar. I don’t know what they were drinking.”


Muni told the jury that he didn’t know Gray, although other witnesses said he sat at Gray’s table for a while and that he and Mrs. Muni left about 7:45 p.m. He added that he didn’t see anyone intoxicated.


Anne Baxter said she also was an early leaver after posing for some pictures on the film set, where the bar and tables had been set up. “Some people were drinking, others eating at steam tables,” she recalled.


Three cases of Bourbon, a case of Scotch and four cases of beer were consumed, according to the caterer.


“Wasn’t there any liquor left?” inquired Deputy Coroner Frank Monfort.


“Oh no, nothing was left,” the caterer replied.


Several witnesses agreed that Gray was intoxicated, although not quarrelsome. Along with all other technicians who worked on the film, he had been invited to attend, “as is custom.”


One friend, Allan Seiger, a property man, said that Gray was hardly able to walk from the party, and he assisted him to the gate to call a cab. But as soon as Seiger walked away, Gray ran back into the studio, according to the Gate Guard, who said earlier in the evening he had seen Gray fall down “two or three times on the set.”



Hollywood Center Studios

Edward Gray was escorted by a friend to this gate (above) to get a taxi but instead was by seen by the gate guard returning to the studio where he eventually met his death.


It was after the taxi incident, testimony disclosed, that Gray apparently climbed the high backdrop, from where he either stumbled or fell off. According to another witness, it was common for studio workers who had been drinking to climb up high to “get out of sight.”


Studio officials emphasized that everyone had left the studio long before Gray was found dying. According to the caterer, the party ended at 8:45 pm when the liquor supply was exhausted.


Gray’s widow was represented by future Los Angeles mayor, Sam Yorty, who argued that the dead man may have been in a fight or run over by a car. However, expert medical, scientific and police testimony claimed his injuries were most likely caused by a fall.


The nine-man jury found Edward Gray’s fatal injuries were “received from a fall while intoxicated.”


Could Edward Gray be haunting the sound stages of the Hollywood Center Studios? Perhaps he was murdered and his soul can’ not find rest. Unlike the characters of the film whose wrap-party he crashed, instead of hell, he chose to walk the rafters of the studio that was his last memory.



Hollywood Center Studios


So this Halloween, take a walk past the gates of Hollywood Center Studios and perhaps you’ll see the spirit of Edward Gray hailing a taxi instead of returning to the studio – and to his death.



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Oscar Winners at Hollywood Forever…

Thursday, February 19th, 2009


Academy Award Winners!



Janet Gaynor and Oscar

 Janet Gaynor the first Best Actress


By Allan R. Ellenberger


It probably comes as no surprise that there are many Academy Award recipients residing at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Many of Hollywood’s film pioneers rest there including several Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences founders such as, Douglas Fairbanks, Cecil B. De Mille, Jeanie Macpherson, Carey Wilson, Frank E. Woods, Charles H. Christie and Jesse L. Lasky.


Of those interred at Hollywood Forever, there are 45 nominees that received a total of 178 nominations. Of that number there are 33 awards that were received by 27 winners. The following are the recipients in the Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, and Best Screenplay categories and the Honorary and Irving G. Thalberg Awards.








Best Picture


The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)




Total Nominations: 3












Best Actress in a Leading Role


7th Heaven (1927)

Also for Street Angel (1928) and Sunrise (1927)


Total Nominations: 2



Janet Gaynor grave









Best Actor in a Leading Role


Network (1976)

Nomination and award were posthumous. Finch became the first posthumous winner in an acting category.


Total Nominations: 2



Peter Finch's grave



Best Actor in a Leading Role


The Story of Louis Pasteur (1935)


Total Nominations: 6



Paul Muni grave









Best Actor in a Supporting Role


The Life of Emile Zola (1937)


Total Nominations: 1



Joseph Schildkraut









Best Director


Gone With the Wind (1939)


Total Nominations: 1



Victor Fleming grave





Best Director


The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)


Total Nominations: 5



John Huston grave








(1) Best Writing, Original Story


The Story of Louis Pasteur (1935)

Shared with Sheridan Gibney

(2) Best Writing, Screenplay


The Story of Louis Pasteur (1935)

Shared with Sheridan Gibney


Total Nominations: 2





Pierre Collings grave



Best Writing, Screenplay


Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Shared with James Hilton, Claudine West, Arthur Wimperis


Total Nominations: 2



George Froeschel grave






Best Writing, Screenplay


The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)


Total Nominations: 8




John Huston's grave




Best Writing, Original Screenplay


Woman of the Year (1942)

Shared with Ring Lardner, Jr.


Total Nominations: 2



Michael Kanin




Best Writing, Story and Screenplay


Interrupted Melody (1955)

Shared with William Ludwig


Total Nominations: 2



Sonya Levien




Best Writing, Screenplay


The Informer (1935)

Refused to accept his award because of the antagonism between several industry guilds and the academy over union matters. This marked the first time an Academy Award had been declined. Academy records show that Dudley was in possession of an Oscar statuette by 1949.


Total Nominations: 4



Dudley Nichols












Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award






Cecil B. DeMille







Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award





Sidney Franklin's grave










Commemorative Award


Recognizing the unique and outstanding contribution of Douglas Fairbanks, first president of the Academy, to the international development of the motion picture (Commemorative Award).



Fairbanks tomb





Cinematographers, Composers, Film editors




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