Posts Tagged ‘Samuel Goldwyn’

Miriam Hopkins update

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel, to be published by University Press of Kentucky

 

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UPDATE: My upcoming biography, Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel, to be published on January 5, 2018 by the University Press of Kentucky, is available NOW for pre-order at 30% off the cover price thru June 30, 2017 at UPK’s website! Please use discount code FS30 when ordering. Thank you.

 

 By Allan R. Ellenberger

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After tens years of research, interviews and writing, on Friday, I was notified that my biography of actress Miriam Hopkins will be published by the University Press of Kentucky as part of their Screen Classics series. The people of UPK have been great and I look forward to working with them

Miriam Hopkins (1902-1972), a top star during Hollywood’s Golden Age, was a complex, independent-minded woman decades ahead of her time. A hard-working (and highly demanding) professional, Hopkins was also a sexually daring, self-educated intellectual, who happened to be a firm believer in liberal causes

She had a reputation as one of the screen’s most difficult and temperamental actresses. A close friend, Tennessee Williams, worked with Hopkins and after an initially difficult period, he accepted her extremes. He once described her extremes as “morning mail and morning coffee,” and at other times she was like “hat-pin jabbed in your stomach. The quintessence of the female, a really magnificent bitch.

Hopkins was exceptionally smart; one who never let anyone find out how smart she was until it was too late. After many years of research, I was amazed at her intellect and temperament, which would erupt unexpectedly and disappear as quickly. Sometimes her demanding mother would trigger it, but in most cases, she was fighting for her career—or so she thought

Throughout the 1930’s, the freewheeling Hopkins was a unique case, remaining a top Hollywood star at no less than four studios: Paramount, RKO, Goldwyn and Warner Bros. And no matter where she worked, in her quest for better opportunities, Hopkins fearlessly tackled the studios’ powers-that-be, from the venerated Samuel Goldwyn to the irascible Jack Warner

Hopkins’ biography offers numerous stories—some humorous, some ugly—about her countless battles with co-workers on the set of her plays and films. Whatever drove her—be it ambition, insecurity, or something altogether different, she created conflict with her fellow actors. She was either loved or hated; there was rarely anything in-between. And to say that Hopkins was “difficult and temperamental” would be an understatement. She was Barbra Streisand, Faye Dunaway and Jane Fonda rolled into one

Having said that, whenever she trusted the work of her director and co-stars, she was an ideal team player, but if she did not, life for them was not worth living. If rewriting screenplays, directing her fellow actors and her directors, fighting with producers and the studio’s front office was necessary, so be it

But in Hopkins’ mind, she was never temperamental. “Proof of that is that I made four pictures with Willie Wyler, who is a very demanding director,” she once said. “I made two with Rouben Mamoulian, who is the same. Three with Ernst Lubitsch, such a dear man. When you are asked to work again with such directors, you cannot be temperamental.

In 1940, she made theater history by starring in Tennessee Williams’ first produced play, Battle of Angels. In the beginning, there were problems, but they soon came to terms. “Difficult? I guess so,” Williams reasoned. “But not with me. She was every Southern divinity you could imagine. Smart and funny and elegant, and I kept looking for her in Joanne [Woodward], and Carrie Nye and Diane Ladd, but there was no one like her. No one. I will hear nothing bad of Miriam Hopkins.

Ironically, I started working on Miriam Hopkins’ life story because of Bette Davis, who was a favorite. I enjoyed watching Hopkins clash with the indomitable Warner Bros. star in their two films together: The Old Maid and Old Acquaintance. There are stories about their dynamic real-life feud, and years later, the image of a post-stroke Davis ranting on television on how demanding her former co-star could be. For her part, Hopkins denied the bad blood between them. That intrigued me. She would say, “Yes, I know the legend is that Bette Davis and I were supposed to have had a feud. Utter rubbish. Bette and I got along fine. I’d love to make another picture with her.” Even more rubbish

I began watching Hopkins’ other films: the ones in which she collaborated with directors, Ernst Lubitsch, Rouben Mamoulian, and William Wyler, in addition to her lesser-known Paramount fare. It was then that I discovered Miriam Hopkins in command of her sexuality. Whether as a dance-hall prostitute in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), a participant in a ménage a trois in Design for Living (1933), or a rape victim in the scandalous The Story of Temple Drake (1933), she proved that sex was more than a three-letter word: at times, it could be raw and terrifying; at others, it could be sensual, sophisticated fun

In 1932, columnist Cal York chose Miriam Hopkins as the “best bet for stardom,” ranking her above Joan Blondell, Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Sylvia Sidney and Helen Hayes. York wasn’t off the mark. Still, Hopkins temperament would hinder her rise to “stardom.” My biography on the actress examines her career decline and her several attempts at a comeback

In 1935, she made motion picture history by starring in the title role of the first all-Technicolor feature film, Becky Sharp, based on Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. For her performance, she received a Best Actress Academy Award nomination (she lost to—who else?—her future archrival Bette Davis)

Chronicled will be Hopkins’ remarkable film career along with the importance of her lasting legacy on the Broadway stage. Regrettably, her widely acclaimed live performances survive only in the recollections of those who witnessed them. Thus, what remain of Hopkins’ art are her films

Eventually, Hopkins appeared in 36 films, 40 stage plays, guest appearances in the early days of television, and on countless radio shows. In these media, she worked with Carole Lombard, Gary Cooper, Jane Fonda, Edgar Bergen, Bing Crosby, William Powell, Sally Field, Henry Fonda, Loretta Young, Orson Welles, Olivia de Havilland, Peter Lorre, Merle Oberon, Claudette Colbert, Ray Milland, Elizabeth Montgomery, Coleen Dewhurst, Robert Redford and dozens more

Her friendships were as celebrated as well, but instead of actors, Hopkins hung around with writers and intellectuals such as writers Theodore Dreiser, Dorothy Parker, Gertrude Stein, and, of course, Tennessee Williams

In her love life, she was independent-minded and just as discriminating. She would have four husbands and dozens of lovers; most were writers including Bennett Cerf, William Saroyan, and John Gunther. Hopkins, once again ahead of her time, was a single mother. In 1932, she adopted a baby boy, being one of the first Hollywood stars to do so and starting a trend for such adoptions

She was an avid reader, sometimes a writer herself, a lover of poetry, and a patron of the arts. Over the years, her political beliefs vacillated from the far right to the far left. She held positions in political organizations that had the FBI tracking her actions for almost four decades, marking her as a perceived “communist sympathizer.

She was one of Hollywood’s brainiest women—yet, she was absurdly superstitious. A believer in the occult, she would not accept film or stage roles, move to a new home, or take long trips without consulting a psychic

Despite all her eccentricities, Hopkins proved that she was an accomplished performer who happened to have her own set of rules and her own personal demons. Although she was aware of being a part of film history—how could Margaret Mitchell’s personal choice to play Scarlet O’Hara not have been—she was not sentimental about her existence or her career. She kept no scrapbooks, clippings, or photographs. It was irrelevant to document or discuss her past

But no matter. This first-ever Hopkins biography will provide the real, complex, and at times a contradictory portrait of a woman who had her faults, and idiosyncrasies, but who was a major (and fearless) professional achiever—one who could be generous, gracious, and selfless

Once you read about the ambiguous, fascinatingly larger than life character that was Miriam Hopkins, you may agree with Tennessee Williams that she truly was a “magnificent bitch.”

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Samuel Goldwyn Jr. Tribute

Saturday, January 10th, 2015

TRIBUTES

Samuel Goldwyn Jr.: In Memory

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Samuel Goldwyn Jr., Robert Mitchum and Goldwyn Sr.

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Samuel Goldwyn Jr., who passed away yesterday at age 88 at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, was the son of producer Samuel Goldwyn and his wife Frances Howard.

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BIRTH AND DEATH

On Tuesday, September 7, 1926, at 4:15 am, Frances  gave birth to her son at Good Samaritan Hospital (weighing seven and one-half pounds), only hours before most members of the film capitol was at Hollywood Cemetery saying their final good-byes at the funeral of silent film idol, Rudolph Valentino. Goldwyn Sr. took time away from the hospital that day to be a pallbearer for Valentino, a last minute replacement for Norman Kerry who injured his leg on a film set.

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Frances Howard Goldwyn and her sister, Constance Howard

look upon new-born Samuel Goldwyn Jr.

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June Mathis: The Woman Who Discovered Valentino

Friday, December 5th, 2014

HOLLYWOOD PIONEERS

JUNE MATHIS; the woman who discovered Valentino

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

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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.

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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.

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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).

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THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE

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).

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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).

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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.

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BEN-HUR

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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REUNION WITH VALENTINO

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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THE FUTURE OF WOMEN IN FILM

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?

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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.

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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.

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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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The Story of the Lasky-DeMille Barn

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

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This month celebrates one-hundred years since director Cecil B. DeMille arrived in Los Angeles and rented a barn in the sleepy village of Hollywood to make The Squaw Man.

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

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Paramount Pictures traces its beginnings back to the founding of Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players Film Company on June 1, 1912. In 1916, Zukor merged his company with the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company, and with the Paramount Distributing Corp., a subsidiary. The new studio became Famous Players-Lasky Corporation and their films would be distributed under the Paramount name. In 1927 the organization was reorganized under the name Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation. In 1935, the Famous-Lasky name was dropped and the studio officially became Paramount Pictures.

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During Paramount’s acquisition of the Lasky Feature Play Company, the studio inherited an unpretentious, at least by Hollywood standards, wooden barn. The origins of that barn have had several incarnations. This is one version.

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In 1913, Jesse Lasky, a thirty-three year-old vaudeville producer, knew very little about films and how they were made. What he did know was that the fairly new entertainment medium was cutting into his stage show business. One day as Lasky and his partner, Cecil B. DeMille were going over the plans for the 1913-1914 Vaudeville season, DeMille dropped a bomb on his friend and partner.  DeMille was having problems living on his royalties and his debts were piling up, so he told Lasky he wanted to quit Broadway and go on an adventure. There was a revolution going on in Mexico and he thought about going there. Lasky did not want to lose his best friend so he blurted out an idea that another friend, Sam Goldfish (he later took the name Samuel Goldwyn) had been trying to interest him in—the movies.  Suddenly Lasky made a suggestion. “If you want adventure,” Lasky told him, “I’ve got an even better idea—let’s make some movies.”

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DeMille grabbed his hand and said, “Let’s.”

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“A portion of the motion-picture industry was built on that one word,” Lasky later said.

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From left: Jesse Lasky, Samuel Goldfish (Goldwyn) and Cecil B. DeMille

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But Lasky had one condition. He had seen a four-reel feature starring Sarah Bernhardt called Queen Elizabeth (1912) which Adolph Zukor of the Famous Players Film Company had imported from France for exhibition. If they were going to do this, he wanted to “do it in a big way and make a long picture like Queen Elizabeth.”

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After lunch they adjourned to the Lamb’s Club on West Forty-Fourth Street to discuss the details. At the club they ran into actor, Dustin Farnum and, while explaining their idea, asked him if he would star in a long feature they were going to produce. Looking around the room, Farnum saw Edwin Milton Royle the author of The Squaw Man. “You get Royle to sell you The Squaw Man and I might agree to join you,” Farnum told them.

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After some discussion, Royle was open to negotiating so Lasky called Goldfish and told him “they were in business.”

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The Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company was formed with Lasky as president, Goldfish the general manager, and DeMille would be the director-general. They each held a quarter of the stock and Farnum agreed to take the other quarter instead of receiving a salary. They paid $15,000 for the rights to The Squaw Man.

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At first they planned to film it Fort Lee, New Jersey, just across the river from New York, but Lasky didn’t think that would satisfy DeMille’s penchant for adventure, so he suggested they go to Flagstaff, Arizona where he knew there were real Indians. “It did not seem necessary for us to go to the then new Hollywood, so we looked at the map and selected Flagstaff, Arizona, as a pretty good name for our producing town,” Lasky said.  

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DeMille was agreeable but Farnum balked at the proposal. As long as he could live at home and work across the river he was willing to be paid off in stock, but if he had to travel across the country, he wanted his salary in cash. With the entire proposition on the verge of collapse, Lasky convinced his wife’s uncle and brother to invest and purchase Farnum’s stock. Reportedly, if Farnum had held onto the stock for eight years, he could have sold it for almost $2,000,000.

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The new producers hired a cameraman with his own camera and they engaged Oscar Apfel to help direct the production. Lasky and Goldfish remained in New York and attended to the sales and financial details as DeMille and Farnum took the train west.

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When DeMille finally arrived at Flagstaff, it was raining, so they boarded the train again and continued west to Hollywood. Once there, he sent a telegram to Lasky: “Flagstaff no good for our purpose,” DeMille wired, “Have proceeded to California. Want authority to rent barn in place called Hollywood for $75 a month. Regards to Sam. Cecil.”

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Goldfish was furious. Lasky defended DeMille’s decision even though he was not sure it was the right one. After arguing for hours they finally agreed to let the company stay in Hollywood. “Authorize you to rent barn but on month-to-month basis,” Lasky wired back, “Don’t make any long commitment. Regards. Jesse and Sam.”

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The barn that became their studio was located in a grove of orange and lemon trees on the southeast corner of Selma and Vine. Built in 1895, it was once a part of the estate of Colonel Robert Northam, whose mansion was located across the street where the Broadway building now stands. In 1904, Northam sold the estate to Jacob Stern, a realtor who, in March of that year, sold the barn to Harry Revier, a producer-director. In December 1913, Revier rented it to DeMille.

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Remodeling the barn into a studio to fit their needs began immediately. The horse stalls were removed and the space gained was transformed into a storage area for equipment the company hoped to buy. The carriage stand was turned into offices, a projection room and a primitive laboratory. The washing block was surrounded by walls and called a vault and the hay and feed section was made into an office, shared by DeMille and Lasky. A 30-foot square platform was built to adjoin the barn on the south side. This platform, the company’s first stage, was covered with a sail rigged to a mast, which could be adjusted to regulate sunlight.

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Shortly, DeMille wired Lasky that production was starting the next day. On December 29, 1913, DeMille ordered “camera” for the first scene of The Squaw Man. The excitement that the production was finally beginning convinced Lasky to come out to Hollywood.

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When Lasky arrived at the old Santa Fe Station, he told a taxi driver that he wanted to go to Hollywood. “He gave me a puzzled look,” Lasky recalled, “but said, ‘Get in boss—we’ll find it.’” After conferring with other drivers at the Alexandria Hotel, they found their way over dirt roads, past endless orchards and the occasional farmhouse until they came to the Hollywood Hotel. Lasky introduced himself to the clerk and made inquiries about the film company.

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“This is my first trip here and I’m not sure where our studio is located,” he told the clerk. “Would you please direct me?”

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“I’m sorry,” said the clerk, “I never heard of it.”

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“Perhaps I should have told you that the director-general of the company is Cecil B. DeMille,” Lasky stated.

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“Never heard of him,” the clerk said. Disappointed, Lasky was leaving when the clerk called him back.

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“Tell you who might help you,” he said. “Drive down this main road till you come to Vine Street. You can’t miss it—it’s a dirt road with a row of pepper trees right down the middle. Follow the pepper trees for about two blocks till you see an old barn. There’s some movie folks working there that might know where your company is.”

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When Lasky heard “barn” he knew he had the right place. He found the barn at Selma and Vine with a sign that identified it as the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company. When he opened the door he heard someone say: “There’s the chief.” Outside there was a two-ton Ford truck with the company’s name inscribed on its side. When DeMille saw him, he grabbed his hand and gathered the company around and gave a speech of welcome. Afterward he had a photographer take a photo of Lasky and the company against the truck.

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Cecil B. DeMille (right) directs a scene from “The Squaw Man”

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DeMille finished The Squaw Man in three weeks, and Oscar Apfel took over the one stage for his production of Brewster’s Millions (1914), another successful stage play. Edward Abeles, who had starred in the stage production, was brought to Hollywood for the film, which was followed by The Master Mind (1914) and The Only Son (1914).

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When The Squaw Man was released, Lasky received a telegram of congratulation from Adolph Zukor, then president of Famous Players. Lasky thought it was generous of him to do so and knew the value of the telegraphic dispatch so he asked Zukor’s permission to use his congratulatory message in their advertising.

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Further improvements were made on the barn and the studio lot. In May 1914, electrical illumination was used for the first time to augment sunlight, when tow spotlights arrived from the East and were used in the production of Steward Edward White’s story, The Call of the North (1914). Meanwhile, the studio was expanding. The platform attached to the barn was outgrown, and a larger, open-air stage was constructed. This received the title of Stage Number One, and when the end of this stage was glassed over, Stage Number One became the pride of the studio and the wonder of Hollywood. Sheds extending from the Selma Avenue side of the barn formed the cutting rooms, carpenter and paint shops, and the first dressing rooms were constructed.

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The first feature film to be made on this stage was DeMille’s Rose of the Rancho (1914). This picture marked a definite step forward in the life of the studio, for this was the first film which was shot, in part, on location away from the stages. At this period the first major influx of stars started. H.B. Warner, Max Figman, Theodore Roberts and Mabel Van Buren joined the Lasky forces. Dustin Farnum returned to the studio to star in the first film version of Owen Wister’s novel, The Virginian (1914), under DeMille’s direction. In the east, Marguerite Clark made her screen debut in The Goose Girl (1915).

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Stage Number One was inadequate to handle the expanding production of the studio and a barley field to the south was annexed and Stage Number Two, an exact replica of Number one, was constructed. Soon a third stage was built, and then a fourth.

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On June 28, 1916, the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company was merged with Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players organization, whose most important asset was Mary Pickford.  Zukor and Lasky combined forces and capital and purchased Paramount Pictures on July 19, 1916 and announced the formation of the $25 million Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, which included Paramount as its distributing channel. Zukor was elected president and Lasky was placed in charge of production.

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The Lasky Studios looking southeast from the corner of Selma and Vine.

The barn is on the far left of the photo.

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Within three years they acquired the entire block between Selma and Sunset on which the former barn was located. The barn was transformed into a small property room and the business offices were moved into a new administration building which extended practically the length of the entire block facing Vine Street. A new glass stage was erected 60 by 200 feet, and another glass stage of the same length. New carpenter and property construction shops were built 300 by 100 feet in size. The studio had extended its walls a full block.

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An aerial view of the Lasky lot (center)

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Further expansion continued and a vacant block on Argyle Street to the east was bought and was referred to as the “back yard,” containing fourteen garages and the street sets for outdoor filming. A new double deck paint frame was erected, eight times the size of the former paint frame, which at the time of its construction, was the largest on the Pacific Coast. Over 150 new dressing rooms were built for the stars, members of the organization and the extras. The studio also controlled the Morosco-Pallas Studios at Occidental and Council, and there, a new stage was built and the plant adjusted so that it could handle at least six companies.

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Beginning with a total staff of fifteen, just three years after The Squaw Man was completed the Lasky Company now had nearly a thousand on its weekly payroll. It had a complete printing plant on the grounds, which was used not only for printing sub-titles, but for preparing all stationary and the like. From having two automobiles, one of which was the personal property of Cecil B. DeMille, the Lasky Company now had fourteen cars, as well as three trucks. At the rear of the garages a complete machine shop was erected and all repairs were made by an expert mechanic and his crew. A concrete building was put up especially for the housing of transformers for the electricity for lights on the stages and the adjacent outdoor lot.

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A thousand-acre ranch near Burbank (now Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills) was acquired as a site for out-door action. It was on this ranch that the studio’s growing collection of horses, cow ponies and cattle were held.

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On the studio’s twelfth anniversary, about 200 stars and well-known film executives attended and gathered in the old barn, now referred to as the “little grey home in the West,” for the celebration on December 14, 1925. Those attending included Ethel Wales, who was a casting director, secretary and, when needed, a leading lady; Mabel Van Buren, James Neill, Theodore Roberts, Dustin Farnum and others. Lasky was presented with a bronze tablet which was placed on the spot where the old barn stood.

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A month later, Famous Players-Lasky purchased the United Studios a few blocks south on Melrose Avenue and Marathon Street, reportedly for $5 million. Lasky would move their operations from the old Sunset and Vine lot to the new studio on May 1, 1926. “Although our studio in Hollywood has long been considered the best equipped plant in the country,” Lasky said, “it is not big enough to take care of the productions which we have scheduled for this coming year. The United Studios has nine stages and its 26 acres will enable us to expand our activities to take care of the production program we have in mind.”

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At the time there were no plans on what to do with the old lot, but Lasky was sentimental about the old barn and the studios beginnings, so he had it picked up and trundled over to the new location. In addition, the window frame that he used to gaze out from was removed and placed in his new private office.

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Top: An aerial view of the new Paramount lot. Note at the top is

Hollywood Cemetery and the new Cathedral Mausoleum on the far right.

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On the new Paramount lot, the old barn served as the studio library and later as the gymnasium. It became part of the studio’s western set, and a porch and railroad tracks were added outside. It was later used as part of the Bonanza television series set.  On December 26, 1956, the barn was dedicated as California Historical Landmark No. 554.

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The dedication to declare the barn a California landmark. From left:

Samuel Goldwyn, Cecil B. DeMille, Jesse Lasky, Leo Carillo.

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The barn remained on the lot until October, 1979 when Paramount gave the barn to the Hollywood Historic Trust, a cultural heritage arm of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Until a decision could be made on what to do with the structure, it sat in the parking lot of Dennis Lidtke’s Palace, just north of Hollywood Boulevard on Vine Street. For the next three years it sat there becoming an eyesore to the community. Even though money was raised to restore the historic barn, there still was no permanent site to be found.

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When Jack Haley, Jr. wanted to film a television special at the Palace, he asked that the barn be moved. The Historic Trust offered to have the barn go to Universal, but preservationists knew it would become just another part of the studios tour. Eventually, Haley and Lidtke backed down on their request and the barn was allowed to stay until a site was found.

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The barn on the move.

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Meanwhile, Marion Gibbons, co-founder of Hollywood Heritage, and a board member of the Hollywood Chamber, proposed that her organization find the barn a permanent home. In May 1982, the Hollywood Historic Trust signed over the barn to Hollywood Heritage. They found a site on a grassy piece of land across from the Hollywood Bowl on Highland Avenue and signed the lease with the county on September 29 of that year. Gibbons and her volunteers finished painting the barn and getting it ready for removal from the Vine Street parking lot to the Bowl location. When completed, the barn was dedicated in December 1985 as The Hollywood Studio Museum.

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After a fire in September 1996, the museum remained closed until July 1999 when it was renamed the Hollywood Heritage Museum in the Lasky-DeMille Barn. When in Hollywood, be sure to visit the old barn where much of the early history of film took place. The museum is open from Wednesday to Sunday from noon until 4PM. For more information, visit their website at www.hollywoodheritage.org .

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Celebrity Christmas Cards

Friday, December 24th, 2010

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

Hollywood Christmas Cards

 

 (lapl)

 

By Alma Whitaker
Christmas 1928

 

Christmas Eve round the fire – opening joyous piles of Christmas cards. Perhaps not quite so many utterly luxurious ones from Hollywood this year – because, oh, well, the “talkies” and other things have marred the prosperity of a few.

 

Five beautiful religious ones. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner (Louise Dresser) send an exquisite Madonna and Babe, with lambs, against a Holy Land background, the whole giving a church window effect. Mr.  and Mrs. Antonio Moreno, a blissful Holy Baby, seemingly sleeping in a celestial spotlight. Ramon Novarro an impressionistic version of the Madonna and Babe, outlined in heavy blue with golden haloes. John Boyce Smith, a white embossed view of the Holy Land, with camels and donkeys, palms and mosques, against a golden sky.

 

Lina Basquette, a snow mountain against a black sky, with two elongated emaciated sleighers floating down it. Doris Dawson, gilded Christmas trees against a turquoise sky and an unknown animal. Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Lowe, two elongated attenuated dancers on a few blue leaves.

 

Tec-Art Studios go in for heavy parchment, a terra cotta city and a palm higher than a church steeple. Billie Dove and Irving Willat send three emaciated reindeer racing down a black rainbow across a purple sky, with a yellow moon. Fanchon Royer’s card, red on silver, shows a very Mephistophelian gentleman apparently making offerings to some Christmas candles. Warner Baxter goes in for black and gold voluptuous architecture against a gray sky striped with red and gold.

 

Elegant simplicity is favored by Dick Barthelmess – white embossed crest on an expensive white background, and no vulgar originality about the greeting. Bebe Daniels has a gold crest on aristocratic gray, winged griffin rampant, motto, “Semper Paratus.” Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Goldwyn’s crest on gold and red is made up of a red S and gold G. Lois Weber and Harry Gantz send chaste open-work greetings in gold. William Cowan and Leonore Coffee’s crest is apparently a fist with a laurel wreath – motto, “Invictus maneo.” Estelle Taylor leaves Jack [Dempsey] off her cards and sends “Estelle” laced into a tulip leaf.

 

Now we come to the intentionally comic. Distinctive among these is a regular bill poster from James Cruze and Betty Compson, filled with naughty caricatures of their guests. That one deserves a story all to itself. Every kind of guest gets a dirty dig – the one who drinks too much, stays too late, sits on good chairs in wet bathing suits, makes tactless remarks, ruins flower beds, et al. Well, the only time they invited me, they forgot – and had already dined. I’m going to get a naughty one out on hosts one of these days.

 

Johnny Hines pictures himself playing golf and shouting “Fore” – “for good times”… which, really now, might be telling ‘em to get out of the way. Colleen Moore, made up as Topsy, is gazing woefully at us from a green card, and the greeting properly Topsyish – in Colleen’s own hand-writing. Katherine Albert sends greetings in ten languages – but no English. Francine and Morse Mason come violently cubistic and very nude. The Milton Sills send three pairs of socks on a laundry line – ostensibly belonging to Milton, Doris and Baby. Dorothy Yost and Dwight Cummings give us a Christmas scenario of ourselves. Ida Koverman could not resist a touch of politics – big candles, elephants, amongst the persiflage, on wrapping paper. Some of the other “comic” ones are a trifle labored, so we won’t expose them.

 

And then come the pile of the simple little ordinary cards – the kind I send myself. Some of them with darling little personal messages, all of them sweetly sentimental, some of them home-made – every whit as precious as the expensive, gorgeous ones. Most of those listed above are frightfully stylish, and came in envelopes as grand as the cards themselves. I counted fifteen that cost over 10 cents postage!

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Belle Bennett profile

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

HOLLYWOOD PROFILES

Belle Bennett, mother of the screen

 

 

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

Belle Bennett is not a name that is well remembered today. Yet she had a successful stage and film career and is best known for her “mother” roles, in particular the 1925 silent film classic, Stella Dallas.

 

Belle Bennett achieved stardom beginning with a girlhood career in the circus. She was born on April 22, 1892 in Milaca, Minnesota, the daughter of circus owners, William and Hazel Bennett. Her father, known as Billie, was one of the pioneer showmen of the circus, who arrived in the United States in 1898 and established himself in St. Paul, Minnesota. His wife, and later Belle, played with him in his stock company. Belle technically began her stage career when her mother carried her on the stage as the baby of The Fatal Wedding. Her mother recalled that she proved to be a good trouper and did not interrupt a single scene by crying.

 

Belle first appeared before the public at the age of 13 as a trapeze performer in her father’s circus. Later she became a member of a stock company, then went to Broadway and played in productions for David Belasco.

 

In 1916 she came to Culver City and signed a contract to make westerns for the Triangle Company. In her early films, Belle supported such stars as Alma Rubens, Gloria Swanson and Olive Borden. When Triangle closed, Belle returned to the stage with the Alcazar Stock Company of San Francisco.

 

Actress Marjorie Rambeau encouraged Belle to seek a place on Broadway and deluged A.H. Woods with letters and newspaper clippings until the producer wired her to come east. Belle made her debut on Broadway in Happy Go Lucky, substituting for Muriel Martin Harvey.  Other plays for Woods included Lawful Larceny, replacing Margaret Lawrence; The Demi Virgin, substituting for Hazel Dawn, and The Wandering Jew, in which she won the favor of Broadway audiences in her own right.

 

Belle was married three times: her first husband was Jack Oaker a sailor at the San Pedro submarine base. Her second husband was William Macy, who was the father of her two sons, William and Theodore. She divorced Macy and married director Fred Windermere in 1924.

 

Belle’s greatest success was in films. She appeared in numerous inconsequential film roles over a period of years until 1925 when she was among seventy-three actresses up for the leading role in Samuel Goldwyn’s production of Stella Dallas.   

 

A few days before a decision was to be made, Belle’s sixteen year-old son William was badly hurt in a scuffle with some other boys. The injury was at first not thought to be serious, but when he was taken to the hospital his condition grew gradually worse. During that brief time he expressed hope that his mother would be chosen for the part of Stella. He said he did not see how they could think of anyone else. Sadly William did not recover from his injuries and he ultimately died. The following day Belle was told that she had received the part.

 

The first few days of filming were difficult but she found solace in her friendship with Lois Moran, who played her daughter in the film. Until then Belle had told people that William was her brother. The reason, she said afterward, was that she wanted to hide her age from the studios, for she had always appeared as a woman of around 24, ten years younger than her real age.

 

 

 

 

Stella Dallas was a resounding success and Belle received stunning reviews for her role. The New York Times said that Belle “gave such a remarkable performance as Stella that she seems to live through the part…”

 

The “mother” role in Stella Dallas (later played in the remake by Barbara Stanwyck) typed her for the remainder of her career. Subsequently she appeared in Mother Machree (1928), Battle of the Sexes (1928), The Iron Mask (1929) and Courage (1930).  

 

In early 1930, Belle suffered a nervous breakdown and was diagnosed with general carcinomatosis, a form of cancer. She recovered but only appeared in three films over the next two years. In the summer of 1932, taking a break from films, Belle went on an extended vaudeville tour. While appearing in Philadelphia she collapsed on stage, but was revived and insisted on “carrying on” in the best theatrical tradition. The effort aggravated her condition and she was sent to Harrisburg hospital for blood transfusions which enabled her to regain her strength.

 

However in September her condition worsened and she was rushed from New York by plane to Hollywood, where she was admitted to Cedars of Lebanon hospital.  Apprised of the severity of her condition, her husband returned from New York.

 

On several occasions during the next two months, she was reported near death, but always rallied and continued to fight; close friends commented that she had the will to live. Yet, on November 4, 1932, her fight ended when she died at 9:15 p.m. The only person with her at the end was her son Theodore; her husband had only just left the room shortly before she passed. Belle Bennett was only 40 years old.

 

On November 6 her funeral was held at Pierce Brothers Mortuary, her body lay in a pure white coffin, banked with a vari-colored spread of flowers, while relatives and intimate friends filled the pews of the chapel. The service was conducted under the auspices of Christian Science, including a reading of selections from the Psalms and the Scripture and the committal of the soul to the care of the Lord.

 

For two minutes the mourners bowed their heads in silent prayer. John Vale, who once acted on stage with Belle a decade earlier, was the soloist, rendering “Shepherd Show Me How to Go,” and “Oh, Gentle Presence,” both authored by Mary Baker Eddy.

 

Then the congregation joined the reader in oral rendition of the Lord’s Prayer. There was no eulogy and the services over, the mourners filed past the bier. Among those who attended were Mary Pickford, for years a close friend of Belle’s, Sidney Olcott, one time her director, and Jean Hersholt, Thelma Todd (whose own funeral would be held in the same chapel in less than three years), Norma Shearer, Zasu Pitts, Russell Simpson and Joe E. Brown. Later that day, Belle Bennett was interred at Valhalla Cemetery in Burbank.

 

The grave of Belle Bennett at Valhalla Cemetery – Block H, Section 8351, Grave 6 (Allan R. Ellenberger photo)

 

 

Belle left no will and it was later revealed that her estate was valued at less than $5,000, which was a surprise considering that she had at one time been a wealthy woman. Her husband and son shared the estate.

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Click below for a brief scene from the 1929 silent adventure film, “The Iron Mask”, featuring Belle Bennett as the Queen Mother, discovering Gordon Thorpe as her long-lost son (the evil twin).

 

 

 

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Samuel Goldwyn Estate on Market…

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

CELEBRITY REAL ESTATE

Samuel Goldwyn Estate Hits Market For First Time

 

 

First noted by Real Estalker, Samuel Goldwyn Jr. is selling his family’s estate on Laurel Lane in Beverly Hills. Built in 1934, and described as a Georgian-style mansion, the estate was frequented by stars ranging from Charlie Chaplin to Marlene Dietrich and the “property was often used as collateral to finance films produced by the senior Goldwyn.” There are no real interior photos, so you’ll have to make due with an excerpt off the listing:

 

“First time on market. Exquisite classic traditional architecture set on two beautiful Beverly Hills acres, nestled on a quiet cul-de-sac just behind the Beverly Hills Hotel. This superb residence has an ideal floor plan including fabulous patio loggias and wonderful yard, exceptional solar heated pool, patio and pool house. Sunken lighted professional tennis court is adjacent to lush fruit orchard.”

 

 

All that Hollywood history and glamour can be yours for $24 million. —  1200 Laurel Lane

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