Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Toluca Lake Homes of Shemp Howard

Shemp Howard of The Three Stooges.

Toluca Lake, a tony neighborhood located partly in Burbank and Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley, has long been a favorite place to live for Hollywood celebrities, including Bob Hope, William Holden, Frank Sinatra, Ann Sheridan and many others. Part of the appeal of Toluca Lake is the small town village feel. The primary commercial street in Toluca Lake, Riverside Drive, is like an Eisenhower era main street filled with little shops. The quiet tree lined residential streets look like they belong somewhere in Middle America, not minutes from the energy of Hollywood.

One of the best descriptions I've seen of Toluca Lake comes from Sandie Howard (granddaughter to Shemp Howard of The Three Stooges). In 2012, Howard wrote a post on the Los Angeles Times website in which she reminisces about growing up in Toluca Lake. Howard describes the shops, the homes,  and what life was like as a child in this celebrity hood. I thought Howard's description was a charming read. Here's what she wrote:
"Toluca Lake. I was born and raised as 3rd generation in our house. Born in 56' and resided there til 81. Grandparents, Babe and Shemp Howard bought this home at 4604 Placidia Ave. My grandpa was Shemp, the original of the Three Stooges. Our home was on the corner of Placidia and Sara St. They lived there from the 40's -mid 50's. They had chickens, a Victory Garden. My grandfather owned a gun only to use on pesty Gophers that would steel all the carrots. My dad bought the home shortly before I was born. We didn't have air conditioning nor a pool for many years. 
Click images to see larger.

Shemp Howard's home at 4604 Placidia Ave.
I recall the fwy being put in. Stayed cool by sprinklers, Water Wiggles, Slip and Slides. All the kids played together. Boys and girls, roller skating, riding bikes, having flour fights. We walked the back wall to get to friends houses regardless of being scratched or cut up by brush and bushes. Toluca Lake kids on Saturdays would spend much time on Riverside Dr. at Pop and Cork for a 'BigStick Popsicle then to The Five and Dime to play with all the open tables of toys. We'd walk through the T.L. Pharmacy where we were not allowed to touch anything. The T.L. Market where you could actually pick up the phone and order your groceries and have them delivered. Bob's Big Boy's car hops to see rollerskating waitresses. Patys for the big Pineapple and Marshmallow syrup. The Pancake House syrups. The Little Green Store on Camarillo. It was safe! Neighborhoods of Walnuts, Birch and Magnolias. 

4604 Placidia Avenue, Toluca Lake, CA.
The Rock on our lawn was the meeting spot for the kids. A mom would call and the friend would run home. I listened for the St. Charles Church bells at 6:00pm. T. Lake. Safe, quaint and well kept neighborhoods. Jill and I both had our weddings in our backyard. Doors of the house were only locked by Skeleton Keys. We had many varieties of fruit trees from Satsuma Plums to Kumquats. At 23, mom leased the house to Denzel Washington then sold it to him. I was crushed not to have an affiliation to that neighborhood anymore. I honestly thought someone in the family would be in that house, in Toluca Lake forever. I make a point to drive through the neighborhood still. I want to go inside to see my house but I don't have the nerve - yet. Toluca Lake is still quaint today. Still close with a couple of kids from the blocks. Many of businesses are still thriving. If you can raise a family in T.L. you are blessed."

10522 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake, CA.

In addition to the home at 4604 Placidia Avenue, Shemp Howard also lived with his wife Gertrude in an apartment building at 10522 Riverside Drive. According to findadeath.com Shemp was living at this address at the time of his death. On November 22, 1955 Shemp had a heart attack on his way home from the fights. He died later on the way to St. Josephs Medical Center in Burbank. He was just 60 years old. I was once told that this apartment building, just like the house on Placidia Ave. was also later owned by actor Denzel Washington.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Book Review: Hollywood Digs: An Archaeology of Shadows by Ken LaZebnik



In addition to wanting to work in the entertainment industry, part of the reason I moved to Los Angeles was to be able to live in an area where so much Hollywood history has taken place. To me Los Angeles is like an amusement park for Hollywood history nerds. Instead of different themed "lands" you have different neighborhoods, each containing their own unique stories and landmarks. The trouble is if you don't know what you are looking for you might completely miss out on some of these fascinating stories. There are many interesting Hollywood stories that are hidden or forgotten, they just need to be uncovered.

In his book, Hollywood Digs: An Archaeology of Shadows, author and screenwriter Ken LaZebnik has done just that - he has dug up some Hollywood stories that have been buried over time and where only shards of history remain. Each chapter focuses on a particular item or place that lead into untold histories involving such subjects as Dick Powell, Marlon Brando or Judy Garland. A street sign in Encino is used to begin a story about F. Scott Fitzgerald during his final days living in a cottage on the estate of Edward Everett Horton. In another chapter a plaque at the legendary Sportsman's Lodge in Studio City honoring stuntman (and father of actress Sally Field) Jock Mahoney, is the starting point for an essay about the stuntman's tragic life.

One of my favorite stories involves LaZebnik visiting a Los Angeles garage sale at Sunshine Terrace, up Laurel Canyon, where he uncovered a binder that included on the first page the note, "Melville Shavelson: THE LITTLE BUGLER." It turned out to be that LaZebnik was in the home of a former president of the Writers Guild of America, West, as well as a successful Hollywood writer,  but who today is largely forgotten. Shavelson got his break as a joke writer for Bob Hope but then went on to write screenplays like HOUSEBOAT with Cary Grant and Sophia Loren and CAST A GIANT SHADOW with Kirk Douglas. What LaZebnik found at the garage sale was a binder containing an unfinished script that Shavelson had started late in his career. LaZebnik, who purchased the binder containing the screenplay, uses this as the starting point to tell us more about who Shavelson was and what the notated, unfinished screenplay reveals about Shavelson.

LaZebnik's writing is very natural and does an excellent job of painting a picture of the places and people he writes about. In the chapter "A Neighborhood Walk"  LaZebnik writes about the homes of George Wendt and Ed Begley Jr. and how several decades prior the same neighborhood was home to Donald O'Connor, Farley Granger, and Marilyn Monroe who once lived briefly in a guest house in the area. LaZebnik shares little anecdotes as he leads the reader along the way. I felt like LaZebnik was giving me a personal tour of his neighborhood in the Valley and I was right behind him as he pointed out key points of Hollywood history.

If you enjoy Hollywood history you will have fun reading this book. Hollywood Digs is a fast read with each chapter focusing on a different subject. Also to be admired are the over sixty stunning photographs that fill the pages that come from the collection of master photographer, Leigh Wiener. The images include photos of Shirley Jones, Jimmy Stewart, Groucho Marx, and Paul Newman to name a few.

Recommended for fans of books like Peter Bogdanovich's "Who the Hell's in It" or "Celebrity Circus" by Charles Higham and anyone interested in unique Hollywood history.

Hollywood Digs: An Archaeology of Shadows will be released on April 1, 2014.

If you live in the Malibu area, on Sunday, March 30th at 3pm Diesel, A Bookstore will be hosting a publication party with author Ken LaZebnik.

Special thanks to Julia Drake Public Relations for sending a copy of the book for review.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cary Grant Walks His Siamese Cat

Cary Grant with his Siamese Cat. Beverly Hills 1955.

Film scholar and writer Farran Nehme, a.k.a. the "Self-Styled Siren," posted the above picture taken in 1955 of Cary Grant walking his Siamese cat through Beverly Hills to her Twitter page. I couldn't resist looking up this corner of Beverly Hills to see if the location has changed. Below is a Google Street View screenshot showing the same corner. 

Click image to enlarge.

Southeast corner of Charleville Blvd and Swall Dr. Beverly Hills.
 (c) Google 2014

The location is the southeast corner of Charleville Blvd and Swall Dr in a residential part of Beverly Hills just a couple blocks from the high-end retailers and medical offices on Wilshire Boulevard. Unfortunately, the house that Grant passes now appears to be blocked by tall bushes, however, you can see part of the roof and the small chimney in the back.

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