Friday, July 29, 2011

Watch Polo At Will Rogers State Historic Park

Will Rogers Polo Field

When I think of the sport polo, the one where men or women on horseback gallop across a giant field and swing mallets at a ball, I usually think of wealthy, high class, international types. I don't really think of polo as an American sport, although, in the 1930s, polo was much more popular in America, particularly in Hollywood.  According to the Pacific Palisades Patch, there were more than 25 outdoor polo fields in the Los Angeles area in the 1930s. Today, there is only one, at the Will Rogers State Historic Park.

My earliest memories of polo are of watching some of the early Disney animated shorts. There were a few Disney cartoons that featured polo in the story line, but the one that stands out the most was a 1936 short called Mickey's Polo Team. In this short, Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Big Bad Wolf, and Donald Duck play against a team of movie stars, which included Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Harpo Marx and Charlie Chaplin. Not surprisingly, during the 1930s, Walt Disney was a fan of the sport and would often play in weekend matches at Will Rogers' polo field. 


Mickey's Polo Team


Many actors played polo during this time, including Clark Gable and Leslie Howard, but one of the most avid players was actor Spencer Tracy. Actresses such as Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, and Joan Bennett could be seen in attendance as spectators. Studio executives also played the game too.  Darryl F. Zanuck was even known to carry a mallet around his office and the 20th Century Fox studio lot. After matches at Will Rogers' polo field, Rogers and his friends would go to to the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The restaurant acquired its name because of all the movie stars visiting the restaurant after polo matches.

Spencer Tracy and Walt Disney

Right now the Will Rogers Polo Club is encouraging the public to attend the polo matches that take place on weekends from April through October at the Will Rogers State Historic Park. Parking at the grounds is $12 but admission to watch the matches is free! For more information on the Will Rogers Polo Club click here. For more information on Will Rogers State Historic Park click here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Walt Disney's Swimming Pool

4053 Woking Way, Los Feliz 
(c) The Walt Disney Company

Apparently, one of the realtors showing Walt's former home at 4053 Woking Way says that there was no pool at the house when Walt lived in the home? This doesn't seem quite right to me. I remembered that in the documentary film, Walt: The Man Behind The Myth, Diane Disney-Miller, Walt's daughter, shared her memories of the home in the Los Feliz hills. Diane specifically mentions how she had fond memories of Walt's animators coming over to use the pool and for barbecues. 

The photo at the top is a screenshot of how the home at 4053 Woking Way looked at the time of the documentary. This is the house that they show as an establishing shot when Diane goes on to talk about the pool. The documentary then shows some vintage home movie footage of one of Walt's pool parties. The two black and white screenshots below show how the pool looked. What's amazing is how undeveloped the Los Feliz area looks in the background. If you own the DVD, this clip is about 35 minutes in.

Pool Party at Walt's House
(c) The Walt Disney Company

An undeveloped Los Feliz can be seen in the background.
(c) The Walt Disney Company

Does anyone have more information on the swimming pool at Walt Disney's 4053 Woking Way home? I'm assuming Walt's daughter's memory and the vintage home movie clips are correct and there was a pool. Perhaps, more likely, the realtor meant that the pool at the home today isn't the original pool?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

I Just Bought Walt Disney's Los Feliz Home!

Walt Disney's Residence at 4053 Woking Way

Ok, so I didn't buy Walt Disney's home. I was just fantasizing.  But, if you haven't heard, Walt's former residence at 4053 Woking Way in the Los Feliz hills is up for sale. If you have $3,650,000 you could live just like the creative studio mogul. All of these photos (and there are more where these came from) are from the official Walt Disney LA Home website. I picked a few of my favorite rooms.


Love the stained glass touches!

Can you picture Walt and wife Lillian 
brushing their teeth together here?


I bet Walt read a lot of scripts here.

The pool where Walt would invite some of his animators 
over to enjoy on hot summer days like the country is having now.

Isn't this ceiling great? It looks like a fairy tale home.

I wish I could afford to move into this home, but unfortunately, it's just a little out of my price range. I only hope, that whoever does end up purchasing this home, they preserve the unique design details. It always sickens me when some classic Hollywood home is torn down only to be replaced by a large, modern, and gaudy building. 

Your thoughts?

To Be or Not To Be (1983) - Film Locations

To Be or Not To Be (1983)

Although the 1983 film To Be or Not To Be may have been set in Poland, Mel Brooks didn't go any further than Burbank, California to make this remake of the 1942 Ernst Lubitsch comedy. The "Bronski Theatre" and all the other Polish buildings were part of the Warner Bros. Studio backlot, specifically, the "New York Street" area of the lot.

In this version, Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft play the roles that Jack Benny and Carole Lombard played in the original. Brooks and Bancroft are Frederick and Anna Bronski, Poland's most famous acting couple. After the Nazis invade Poland, Brooks, Bancroft and everyone in their acting troupe must  use there acting skills not to entertain, but to fool the Nazis. They are playing not for an audience, but for their lives.

The film opens with Brooks and his acting troupe performing at the Bronski Theatre. What is supposed to be Poland, is really New York Street on the Warner Bros. lot.

Bronski Theatre

New York Street, Warner Bros. Lot

Bronski Theatre after the Nazis invade Poland.

Brooks arrives at the theatre.

Looking across from the "Bronski Theatre."

The Bronski Theatre dressed for the arrival of the Fuehrer.

Another view of the theater building on the WB lot.

Brooks driving away disguised as the Fuehrer.

Another view of NY Street at WB used as Poland.

As much as I enjoy the original, it doesn't stop me from liking this remake. Brooks adds his fast paced, zany, schtick and really makes this version of the story his own. To me, I see the films as two different kinds of comedies. What do you think? Have you seen either version of To Be or Not To Be?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

2011 Tiki Celebration at the Egyptian Theatre

King Kukulele and his Friki Tikis

This past Saturday, the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood hosted their annual Tiki Celebration which included performances by the comical and kitschy performer King Kukulele and his Friki Tikis, Polynesian food and tropical drinks at neighboring Maui & Sons restaurant, vendors selling tiki themed products, a tiki fashion show, a tribute to legendary Disney clown Wally Boag for his contributions to the Disney tiki themed attraction, "The Enchanted Tiki Room," and a screening of the 1951 Polynesian themed film, Bird of Paradise. It was a beautiful summer evening in Hollywood, perfect for such a tropical themed event. Although the turnout was not large, it was great to see such a diverse group in attendance. There were young kids probably experiencing tiki culture for the first time, older adults who probably have been sipping strong tropical drinks from tiki mugs for many years, and everyone in between.

King Kukulele and his Friki Tikis

The event started in the courtyard of the Egyptian Theatre with solo artist Ukulele Davey playing some musical standards on his uke.  Then the band King Kukulele and his Friki Tikis took to the stage, pulling in the audience with their melodies and lively performance. This was my first time seeing King Kukulele, who is not only a singer and musician, but quite the comedian too. To see a Youtube video of King Kukulele, click here.

Tiki Crafts

I only have two complaints with the Tiki Celebration. 

First, the way I interpreted the event info on the American Cinematheque website, was that Maui and Sons restaurant would be serving BBQ and Polynesian themed drinks in the courtyard. This was partially true. If you were lucky enough, you could eat/drink in the courtyard but only in the area attached to the Maui & Sons restaurant near the entrance of the courtyard. The thing is, you could hear the music from that location but not watch the performers. The other option was to go inside the restaurant and not see nor hear the musical performances at all. I figured the restaurant would have some kind of catering set-up to serve the attendees in the courtyard where they could eat, drink and still watch the music. At the TCM Classic Film Festival they didn't serve food, but they did at least have a station to order drinks which you could then take with you around the Egyptian Theatre courtyard. I thought the Tiki Celebration would be set up in a similar manner.

Second, when my friends and I arrived at the theatre, just a few minutes past the start time of 5pm, we couldn't find anyone around who was working the event. There was no one at the ticket booth to pick-up will call tickets, no one at the doors to the theatre or in the courtyard, or at least anyone making themselves noticeable, to answer questions. When you go to a regular theatre, a restaurant, a hotel, and many other service oriented businesses, there is usually some kind of host/hostess to greet guests and answer questions. I wish the Tiki Celebration would have had some kind of host available to answer questions. That way, instead of listening to rumors from other clueless attendees who said the festival would be bringing food/drink to the courtyard where the performance area was, I could have asked someone official working the event and found out that I should have gone straight to the restaurant to grab a decent spot.

Nevertheless, my family, friends, and I still had a good time. I mention the above only so that maybe next year these two items could be fixed for an even better experience. 

Disney Legend, Wally Boag

After the musical performances outside in the courtyard, the event moved inside the Egyptian Theatre. King Kukulele hosted a tiki fashion show, where women dressed in tiki fashions, such as Polynesian inspired dresses, sarongs, and grass skirts strutted their way to the front of the theatre. This was followed by a video tribute to Disney comedian, Wally Boag, which was shown on the Egyptian's huge theatre screen. Boag was most famous for his performances in the long running stage show at Disneyland, "The Golden Horseshoe Revue." Boag also added his comedic talents to many other Disney related projects, including writing most of the script and doing voices for the the attraction, "The Enchanted Tiki Room." Boag unfortunately passed away earlier this year, but he had attended the Tiki Festival a couple of years ago to talk about his experience at Disneyland and his involvement on the Enchanted Tiki Room attraction.

Another Disney legend, Richard Sherman, who wrote the song, "The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room" for the Enchanted Tiki Room attraction was supposed to attend this years Tiki Festival, but turned out unable to make it.

Bird of Paradise (1951)

After the tribute to Wally Boag, the event ended with the feature presentation, the 1951 film, Bird of Paradise. The film, beautifully shot on location in the Hawaiian islands, is quite stunning to watch on a large screen. The story however, is a bit campy. I felt like I was watching one of those cheesy films that the television show, Mystery Science Theatre 3000 would have poked fun at.  I don't think I'll need to watch this film again, but it was fun to watch to go with the whole Polynesian/tiki theme for the evening.

All in all, the Tiki Celebration was a fun summer event that I hope will continue in future years and continue to grow each year with new offerings. If you want to learn more about the tiki culture, a good starting pointing is the Tiki Magazine website.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Witness to Murder (1954) - Film Locations

Witness to Murder (1954)

How would you like to rent Barbara Stanwyck's apartment? Maybe you would prefer the posh pad of her neighbor George Sanders? But, what if there was a murder in the neighborhood? Would you still want to move in? Well, you can! Both buildings have units ready to move into. Of course, I'm not talking about Stanwyck's or Sanders's real homes, but the apartment buildings where their characters live in the 1954 film, Witness to Murder.

In Witness to Murder, Stanwyck plays Cheryl Draper, a single working girl, who from her apartment window one night, witnesses a murder being committed in the apartment across the street. The always delightfully smarmy George Sanders plays Albert Richter, a former Nazi and intellectual type, who commits the murder. From the beginning, we know that Sanders is the murderer and Stanwyck tries to prove to the police that Sanders committed the murder, but the police don't believe her. Sanders, using his charm and cunning abilities, leads the police to believe that Stanwyck is a bit delirious. Stanwyck does everything she can to prove that Sanders is the murderer, but the harder she tries, the more crazy the police think she is.

The story isn't groundbreaking and the writing is a bit weak in spots, but what is luring about this film is the performances by Stanwyck and Sanders. In fact, Sanders is so good in my opinion, that I don't care that he speaks with an English accent even though he is supposed to be German. If you want to see a more melodramatic version of a film in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, which came out the same year I might add, then you should give Witness to Murder a view.

After watching Witness to Murder I was curious about the apartment buildings featured in the film and so I decided to track the buildings down. I had seen some buildings with a similar architectural style in a book on the historic Los Angeles neighborhood, West Adams, so I decided to start looking in that area first. After about 15 minutes of touring the area street by street, via Google, I found the apartment buildings in an area now known as Koreatown!

In the below screenshot and photo, we can see Barbara Stanwyck's apartment on the right (with the awning) and George Sanders apartment straight ahead and to the left. The intersection is S. Serrano Ave at San Marino Street.

S. Serrano Ave at San Marino Street

S. Serrano Ave at San Marino Street

Stanwyck at her apartment. 939 S. Serrano Ave

Stanwyck's apartment. 939 S. Serrano Ave

Stanwyck's apartment is available to lease.

There is a unit a available in the building that was used as Stanwyck's apartment. If you want to move in, there is a phone number listed in the above photo. Below is a full shot of the apartment building.

939 S. Serrano Ave, Los Angeles

The next few images are comparisons of the building that was used as the apartment for George Sanders. From a real estate listing on Trulia, it appears that this building which was built in 1922 and known as the Miramonte Terrace, is now a condominium, with one unit for sale. The price for the 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom unit is $325,000. It comes with one secure parking space, shared access to the rooftop deck, and a rec room/billiards room in the basement. To view photos of the inside of the building, click here. The exact address for this building is 3400 San Marino Street, Los Angeles.

Sanders arrives at his apartment. 3400 San Marino Street

3400 San Marino Street, Los Angeles

3400 San Marino Street, Los Angeles

The entrance to the Miramonte Terrace

This plaque can be seen in the film.

The next few images show comparisons of the intersection from different angles. The first is of Stanwyck walking from her apartment on Serrano and heading to Sanders apartment on San Marino. The view in the background is looking down San Marino. The second comparisons show the view looking down Serrano.

Stanwyck crosses San Marino Street

Looking down San Marino Street.

Looking down S. Serrano Ave (left side of street).

Looking down S. Serrano Ave (left side of street).

Right side of Serrano Ave.

Right side of Serrano Ave.

As I mentioned, Stanwyck plays a working professional. She is an interior designer at a store in Beverly Hills. The building that was used as the business still stands, although the outside has been slightly modified. What was at one time the home of W. & J. Sloane, located at 9560 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, is now home to Burberry and Niketown. To read more about this building and to see interior photos from the 1950s, click here.

W. & J. Sloane, 9560 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills

Burberry / Niketown, 9560 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills

Are you ready to move into Stanwyck's or Sanders's apartments? By the way, if you have Netflix, this film is currently available for streaming.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Hollywood Hillview Apartments

Hillview Apartments, 6533 Hollywood Blvd

At a time when Hollywood was a sleepy little town influenced by residents with strong puritan principles, actors arriving from the stages of New York and looking to get into "pictures," often had no where to stay. What few living spaces were available to rent had signs that read, "No Dogs and No Actors." The lack of housing available to actors in Hollywood led movie moguls Jesse Lasky and Samuel Goldwyn to build an apartment complex that would cater specifically to the acting community. In 1917, at 6533 Hollywood Boulevard, the Hillview Apartments (now the Hudson Apartments) were erected.

Photo Credit: Hudsonapartments.com

The Hillview Apartments included modern amenities such as a garbage incinerator and automatic elevators, as well as a rehearsal space in the basement to cater to the many actor residents. According to PreserveLA.com there was even a Speakeasy. A Los Angeles Times article from September 20, 2007 further explains that Rudolph Valentino ran the speak-easy, which was accessible by a trap door. Some of the early stars that have filled this 54-unit apartment include Mae Busch, Stan Laurel, Jack La Rue, Barbara LaMarr, Joan Blondell, Jack Dougherty, Clara Bow, and Mary Astor to name a few.

Photo Credit: Hudsonapartments.com

During the 1960s the Hillview Apartments started a decline in safety and appearance along with the rest of Hollywood. Transients and drug dealers took over the area. The building itself suffered damage from the 1994 Northridge earthquake, sinkage due to the tunneling of the MetroRail subway and a fire in 2002. Fortunately, Jeffrey Rouze, the architect responsible for remodeling the El Capitan Theater further down Hollywood Boulevard stepped in to help preserve this building. The restored building reopened on July 14, 2005.

Photo Credit: Hudsonapartments.com

If you're looking to move into the Hillview Apartments, it doesn't come cheap. Each level of room is named after early silent film stars. The least expensive, "The Greta Garbo," is a 375 Sq. Ft. studio/1 bath that starts at $1400. The priciest apartments, a "Chaplin," will cost between $2200-$2700 for a 2 bed/2 bath, 1054 Sq. Ft space.

Photo Credit: Hudsonapartments.com

Early Hollywood is filled with scandalous stories and it seems that is still true today. Earlier this year, one of the young female tenants of this complex was murdered by her fiance in the 3rd floor hallway. According to the resident forum at hollywoodhillviewapartments.com, there have been other reports of battery, a prostitution ring, and sexual assault.

It is sad to hear that such despicable events are taking place in the Hillview Apartments building, but if the building can be restored to its original beauty, then maybe the environment inside can be restored to something safe and respectable again.

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