Saturday, August 21, 2010

Spencer Tracy Arrives in Hollywood

Spencer Tracy

By 1930, Spencer Tracy was starting to get noticed on Broadway. Just a year earlier talking pictures were the big news out of Hollywood and many of Tracy's fellow Broadway actors were leaving the east coast for the west coast - ditching the stage for the screen. Tracy, who had heard the rumors of the money to be made in movies didn't totally rule out the idea of heading to Hollywood himself, although, not being the most handsome of men, he wasn't the typical image of a leading man of the screen, he had some uncertainties.

While performing in the Broadway show The Last Mile, the legendary director John Ford, took notice of Tracy. Ford has said, "More than anything else I was tantalized by his movements. I don't think many people were ever conscious of Spence's bodily discipline. After seeing the play twice I still didn't have a good impression of what he looked like, and aside from knowing that he had a fairly good voice it failed to register for me in terms of its quality. But his catlike agility was something extraordinary. He made every movement sharp and meaningful, and didn't waste a single turn."

After the show, Ford met Tracy backstage at his dressing room. The two men hit it off and Tracy suggested that they go to the Lambs Club for a nightcap. Ford was surprised to see so many Irishmen there. "Bill Frawley was there, and Allen Jenkins. And that was the night I met Pat O'Brien. Pat got to telling Irish stories - he was spinning the yarns even then, and nobody else is really in his class."

Later Ford arranged for Tracy to meet Fox executives in their New York office. They offered him $800 a week - more money than what Tracy was used to making up to that point. Pressing his luck, Tracy asked for a $1,000 and got it!

Tracy was soon on a train from New York to Hollywood to join the cast of Ford's film, Up the River. After a six day train ride Tracy arrived in Los Angeles in late June. He was picked up at the station by two young men from Fox who drove him to the Hollywood Hotel where he would stay while making the picture.

Below is a postcard image of the Hollywood Hotel which used to stand at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. It was the place to stay when you came to Hollywood, however, by the 1950s the hotel got run down and was eventually demolished. Today the site is home to the Hollywood and Highland Complex, filled with shops, restaurants, and the Kodak Theater, the current home of the Oscar ceremony.

Hollywood Hotel, Hollywood Blvd & Highland Ave


Hollywood & Highland

Once Tracy got settled at the hotel he was taken to the old Fox studio on Western Avenue. At the studio Tracy met the general manager, Ed Butcher, who informed him that his costar was to be another unknown actor from the east, Humphrey Bogart. Tracy got a tour of the lot and saw the mill, the workmen and all the film equipment.

Because of problems with the script, that first week Tracy had nothing to do, so he would spend his days roaming around the studio lot, questioning technicians and watching films being made on the lot. Tracy started meeting other people at Fox, including Raoul Walsh who would later direct him and Marion Morrison who was making his first film, as John Wayne.

Another actor Tracy met was the huge star Will Rogers. Rogers, who still followed what was happening on Broadway was already familiar with Spencer Tracy. The legendary actor invited Tracy to his table at the Fox commissary and the two became fast friends. Rogers even invited Tracy to the Riviera Country Club to watch the polo matches. Eventually, Tracy would become an avid polo player himself.

Fox Studios at Western Ave and Fernwood, Hollywood


Looking North on Western Ave. at Fernwood today
The Fox lot in Hollywood is no longer.

After a month had passed work had finally begun on Up the River. One of the notable moments about making this film is that Spencer Tracy would call his co-star, Humphrey Bogart, by the name "Bogie." The nickname would stick well after the picture.

The film was shot in a few days, edited in a week and previewed in September, in San Bernardino. The film was released nationally on October 30, 1930.

Tracy had to return to New York to complete his commitment to The Last Mile. On January 18, 1931, Fox Films announced they were signing Tracy to a 5 year contract. Tracy would soon be back in Hollywood for good, this time with his family.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Out of the Past (1947) - Film Locations

Main Street, Los Angeles as seen in Out of the Past

In the classic noir film Out of the Past, Robert Mitchum plays a private eye trying to escape his past. In the film, Mitchum's character is taken to many different locations: New York, Mexico, San Francisco and for a short time Los Angeles. We don't see much of the City of Angels but we do get a glimpse of Mitchum driving his car down a stretch of Main Street near the Los Angeles City Hall building. Above is a shot of  Mitchum driving down Main Street in the direction of City Hall. Below is the same view down Main Street today.


Looking down Main Street, Los Angeles


Robert Mitchum drives past Brunswig Drug building.


Brunswig Drug Co building. Main Street, Los Angeles

You can see from the two images above that the Brunswig Drug Co building is still standing. In fact it was refurbished not long ago. Even the church on the right is still standing, however, the buildings inbetween have been demolished since the the time of the film and is now a vacant lot.

The screenshot below is the building that would have stood to the right of the church but this building has also been torn down.

Robert Mitchum driving down Main Street, Los Angeles

Nuestra Senora Reina de Los Angeles

Above is a closer look at Nuestra Senora Reina de Los Angeles, the church seen in the film. The original church was established in another location in 1784. Eventually a new church was built at this location in 1822 and then later rebuilt in 1861 using materials from the original structure. The church stands right in front of the plaza to the famous Mexican market place, Olvera Street, the oldest part of downtown Los Angeles.

UPDATE: August 15, 2010

Just got word that over at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings blog Laura has recently captured some of the Out of the Past film location sites in Bridgeport, California. Check it out here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Three Films I Wish Were on DVD or Blu-Ray

Bachelor in Paradise (1961)

There are many great films that still haven't found their way on to DVD or Blu-Ray yet, but over on the Turner Classic Movies website you can vote for films to be released on home video. Here are three films that I wish were on DVD or Blu-ray, and if you want to help me out, you can go over to TCM and vote on these three films too.

First, I love Bob Hope and I think he is one of the underrated comedians. Many people think of him for his work entertaining the troops which is great, but forget how hilarious his films were. One of his films, Bachelor in Paradise, although shown on Turner Classic Movies occasionally, is not available on DVD. In the film Hope plays an author who settles down in the suburbs to write a book about American suburban culture, but when Hope is the only bachelor amongst many lonely housewives, trouble ensues. The film has been uploaded to YouTube but that is no way to watch a feature film.

Scavenger Hunt (1979)

As a kid one of my favorite films was Scavenger Hunt. It's got a great cast filled with cameos including Ruth Gordon, Roddy McDowall, Meat Loaf, Dirk Benedict, Cloris Leachman, Vincent Price, Tony Randall, Scatman Crothers, and a young body builder named Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the film, Mr. Parker, a game inventor, passes away. At the reading of his will, his family, servants, and friends learn that they must compete on a scavenger hunt in order to win their inheritance. The movie is a fun gag filled ride and like Bachelor in Paradise, is also available on YouTube, but not on DVD.

Song of the South (1946)

Another childhood favorite of mine is the Disney live-action/animated film Song of the South. This controversial film tells the stories of Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, and Brer Fox. Many people are familiar with the ride Splash Mountain at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, but I wonder how many people know or remember the film on which the attraction was based?

So what movies do you wish were on DVD or Blu-ray? You should hop on over to TCM to vote for some films, preferably the three above :)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Nickelodeon (1976) - Film Locations

Peter Bogdanovich, Ryan O'Neal, Burt Reynolds on set

One of my favorite Peter Bogdanovich films is Nickelodeon (1976), the director's ode to the silent film days. Bogdanovich, who really got his break into the film business as a journalist in the 1960s interviewing Hollywood legends, got the idea for Nickelodeon while interviewing early silent filmmakers like Allan Dwan and Raoul Walsh. Dwan and Walsh had some pretty crazy stories about making movies during that time period, particularly about the studios trying to force out the smaller filmmakers, and Bogdanovich brings those stories to life in his film.

Bogdanovich shot some of Nickelodeon on location but there were some scenes that were filmed on the Warner Bros. backlot in Burbank, California. Here are some of those backlot locations.

Ryan O'Neal leaves the courthouse.

The film begins with O'Neal in court. The exterior of the courthouse was actually the city hall building on the New York Street of Warner Bros. backlot.

City Hall building, WB backlot.

Some of the other scenes were filmed on the Warner Bros. Midwest Street, the same street that was used for The Music Man, East of Eden, and most recently the hit show Pretty Little Liars.


Starr Hotel in Nickelodeon


Starr Hotel building on Midwest Street, WB Backlot


Starr Hotel building in background.


Another view of Midwest Street, Warner Bros. backlot.


Burt Reynolds on Warner Bros. Midwest Street


Midwest Street, Warner Bros. Backlot

This next location I'm not entirely sure about, but I'm pretty confident that the scene at the end of Nickelodeon where the D.W. Griffith film premiere is taking place, was shot on the Warner Bros. New York Street. Below is a facade that is used over and over again as a theater. I'm sure the set designers just dressed up the facade for the film.

D.W. Griffith film premiere as seen in Nickelodeon.


Theatre facade on Warner Bros. New York Street backlot.


Your thoughts?

Patsy D'Amore and The Legendary Villa Capri Restaurant

Villa Capri Restaurant in Hollywood, CA Photo (C) LIFE

A few weeks ago I did a post about James Dean's final day and I mentioned how Dean was living in a log cabin home that he rented from the maitre d' of the Villa Capri restaurant in Hollywood. Dean was a frequent visitor at the Villa Capri, as was Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and many other Hollywood legends. The restaurant deserves its own blog post but instead of doing a post here, I think you should check out the great website that Filomena D'Amore has put together: http://www.patsydamore.com/


Dean Martin & Frank Sinatra at the Villa Capri (C) LIFE

The website has a lot of colorful information about the Villa Capri and about Filomena's father Patsy D'Amore, who started the Villa Capri, as well as the other establishments he started in Los Angeles. And if you want to get a taste for what the D'Amore's have been cooking up all these years you can visit Patsy D'Amore's Pizza  at the Third Street Farmers Market in Los Angeles, in operation since 1949 (Unfortunately, the Villa Capri is no longer).
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