Sunday, April 26, 2009

Marion Davies Beach House Now Public Beach Club

Marion Davies beach estate, Santa Monica, CA
The former Santa Monica beachfront estate of silent film actress Marion Davies opened Saturday as the nation's first public beach club. The new Annenberg Community Beach House, just off the Pacific Coast Highway, has been in the works for more than 10 years. The facility which includes volleyball and tennis courts, cafe, playground and swimming pool, is the only such facility on the California coast that doesn't require membership. That pool by the way is the same marble-tiled pool that Davies used to entertain her celebrity friends.
The 5-acre estate was built in the late 1920s by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearts, for Davies, who he was having a long-term affair. During the 1920s and 1930s the two would host many of their lavish parties at this 110-room mansion. The guest list would include the biggest celebrities of the time, including such names as Charlie Chaplin, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Gloria Swanson, and Cary Grant.
By 1945 the property was sold and run as a hotel. However, the hotel would fail and in 1959 the mansion was torn down and the property sold to the State of California. Over the next 30 years the property was operated as a private beach club. Then in 1994, when the Northridge Earthquake shook Los Angeles, the property was severely damaged. The place remained dormant until yesterday, after the Annenberg Foundation funded a project to repair the remaining structures which include the historic pool and guest house (the only original remaining structures) and the construction of several new structures including a pool house and event building.
Fees to attend the newly opened facility cost $3 to $10

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"Pieces of My Heart" - Robert Wagner to discuss new book.

Actor, Robert Wagner
This Tuesday, April 21 the hard working film and television actor Robert Wagner will be at the South Pasadena library to discuss his latest book, Pieces of My Heart. If you consider yourself a fan of actors and actresses from Hollywood's past then you must get your hands on a copy of this book. Wagner, who grew up in the posh neighborhood of Bel Air, became a teen heart throb for Fox studios, and later became a television legend gives readers an entertaining and revealing insider's look of the Hollywood world. I'm very excited to hear in person more about some of the fascinating stories from Wagner's book. What kinds of stories?
Well, during the filming of one of Wagner's early films, What Price Glory, starring James Cagney, the legendary director John Ford would only call Wagner by the name of "Boob." During the filming of one of Wagner's scene's Ford yelled, "Cut" and then walked across the set. "You know, Boob, if you can't see the camera, the camera can't see you. You be clear to the camera." Then Ford pushed Wagner hard to the ground. Cagney, who was standing next to Wagner said, "Don't worry, kid. He does that. You'll be all right. Just remember your lines, that's all you have to do."
Later, while filming another scene Ford picked up a rock and started to throw it at Wagner. Basically, according to Wagner, the director was trying to destabilize him, which he did.
On another film with actor Spencer Tracy, who Wagner had become close friends with, Wagner got to learn the dark side of Tracy's alcoholism. While filming The Mountain on location in the French Alps, Tracy one day got completely smashed in the hotel bar. By the time Wagner had finished filming his scenes for the day and found Tracy in the bar, Tracy was throwing a glass at the bartender who he believed made some remark. Wagner reached out to stop the glass but it shattered in his hand giving him some bad cuts. The next day Tracy had no memory of the event.
A lot of the book focuses on Wagner's many relationships with women. His love affair with the much older actress Barbara Stanwyck and most famously his on and off again relationship with actress Natalie Wood up until her death. Throw in some other interesting loves and you got some juicy stories.
Speaking of Natalie Wood, when Wagner was first married to the actress, the two went together to New York City to see the stage show of Gypsy. Jack Warner, the head of Warner Bros, had bought the rights to Gypsy as a potential movie project for Wood. After seeing the show, Wood did a press conference with Warner announcing their plans for the film and then posed for photos. Meanwhile, Wagner joined Warner in his Fifth Avenue office.
"Would you like a drink?" Jack asked. Warner poured Jack Daniel's for both of them and then started to discuss the film project for Wood. Warner, who had been congenial up to this point asked Wagner, "Who do you think should play the mother?" Wagner said, "Well, Jack, in my estimation there's only one person in the world who can play the part - Judy Garland."
Now, after hearing that name Warner was no longer Mr. Nice. Warner responded, "That fucking cunt will never work in my studio again! Fuck her! She's a pain in the ass, a no-talent cunt." Warner continued on with this rant. Apparently, when Garland worked for Warner Bros. on the film A Star is Born, he noticed at the premiere party which was held at Judy's house, that her home was filled with all the furniture used for the sets from the film. Garland had stolen furniture from Jack Warner and he never forgave her for it.
My favorite story is one that involves Wagner's friend, actor David Niven. Wagner went to visit Niven at Cortina d'Ampezzo in Europe to take a break from things. One day Niven and Wagner were riding a chairlift that went up a tall mountain, where at the top there was a nice restaurant. The two men had dressed casually but the weather had changed drastically and became very cold. After lunch, when Niven and Wagner got back in the chairlift to ride down the mountain, Niven casually said, "My cock is frozen. I have a frozen cock. Frozen solid."
When the two got to the bottom where there hotel was Niven asked Wagner's friend and future 2nd wife, Marion Marshall to sit on his lap to warm up a "very valuable part of David's life." Niven then ordered a Brandy and asked Wagner to follow him to the bathroom where he then unzipped his pants and dropped his penis into the brandy snifter to keep from getting frostbite.
Next the bathroom door swung open and a man dressed in a military uniform walked in. Seeing Niven with his cock in the glass and Wagner staring at it the man stood shocked. Without skipping a beat, Niven looked up and said, "I always give it a little drink from time to time."
These are just some of the many entertaining stories that you will discover if you read Wagner's book, Pieces of My Heart. I mentioned some of the humorous stories but not all the book is funny. It is also filled with heartbreaking stories of divorce, death, and complicated relationships. Wagner has a fascinating story to tell and you will enjoy reading it. And if you have the chance you may want to visit the South Pasadena public library this Tuesday, to talk more about his new book.

Location: South Pasadena Library, 1100 Oxley Street, South Pasadena, CA
When: April 21 at 7pm
Cost: Free!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

NBC Hollywood - Then & Now

NBC Studios c.1940s - Sunset Blvd & Vine St.

NBC Studios site 2009, Sunset & Vine Hollywood
Above are photos of the NBC Radio Studios lot during the 1940s and how the location appears today. During the 1930s all the major radio networks in New York City began opening up west coast locations in this area of Hollywood. NBC first had a west coast radio studio in 1937 located on Melrose Avenue near the Paramount and RKO studios. This studio had two small stages with seats for live audiences. However, when CBS opened a much larger studio NBC decided to build a new a larger state-of-the-art radio studio located at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street. The building, which opened in 1938 was a stylish streamlined art deco structure with eight studios and a three story office building.
However, like many historical structures in Hollywood the NBC Radio Studio in Hollywood would be demolished. Today there is a Washington Mutual bank (now a Chace bank?) on the corner. Also, notice how much smaller the palm trees are in the old photograph and the difference in the skyline.
Radio show guests and performers who were visiting would sometimes stay at the Plaza Hotel just up the street. That building is still standing. Also neighboring the NBC Radio Studios and the Plaza Hotel was the popular Brown Derby restaurant where all the big Hollywood stars dined. However, this Brown Derby has been demolished.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hollywood Brown Derby

1628 North Vine Street, Hollywood Brown Derby

Probably the most famous Hollywood restaurant, past or present, would have to be the Brown Derby. There were a chain of Brown Derby restaurants, the first and most iconic being the restaurant that opened on Wilshire Blvd in 1926 in the shape of a brown derby hat; but it was the Vine Street Brown Derby that would become the most famous.

Do to its proximity to the movie and radio studios nearby the Vine street Brown Derby became a place to see and be seen. Humphrey Bogart, Groucho Marx, Cecille B. Demille and other Hollywood legends could be seen eating here. Gossip columnists Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper would frequently conduct interviews in the restaurant. Leading man Clark Gable even proposed to actress Carole Lombard in booth 54. In the 1950s the Brown Derby on Vine was even featured in an episode of I Love Lucy. It was here that Lucy Ricardo accidentally covers William Holden in food after gawking at the actor from an adjacent booth.

Lucy Ricardo & William Holden @ Brown Derby from I Love Lucy

Unfortunately, all that remains of the Hollywood Brown Derby building can be seen in the photos above and below. Hollywood has seen many new businesses moving in and transforming the community. One of these new businesses is a W hotel which is currently under construction in that area just behind the last remnant of the Brown Derby building.

Last remnant of the Hollywood Brown Derby building.

Looking North on Vine Street Hollywood 1950s

Looking North on Vine Street, Hollywood 2009
Above is a picture looking north on Vine Street in Hollywood during the 1950s. On the right you can see the Brown Derby restaurant. Just below that is a picture I took recently looking north on Vine Street showing the same location as it appears today. You can see the large W hotel complex going up where the Brown Derby used to be. Right across the street from the Brown Derby restaurant was the Plaza Hotel/It Cafe site. Read more about that historic location in one of my earlier posts here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bob's Frolic Room in Hollywood

6245 Hollywood Blvd, Bob's Frolic Room

Bob's Frolic Room, located at 6245 Hollywood Blvd, is THE dive bar of Hollywood. Originally Freddy's Frolic Room the place opened up as Bob's at the end of Prohibition. Ever since this no flash, dark and simple bar has attracted the working class Hollywood crowd. This isn't the place you will see stars. However, Bob's Frolic Room is a star in it's own right having been featured in several television shows and feature films, inlcuding L.A. Confidential and the Black Dahlia.
Kevin Spacey as Jack Vincennes in L.A. Confidential outside Frolic Room

Bob's Frolic Room, Hollywood, CA

Because the bar is located next door to the Pantages Theatre you will often see a crowd of theatre goers around showtimes. This would be the place to grab a cheap drink before your show starts.

Inside is a mural of old cinema legends but beyond that there is nothing exciting worth writing about. This is a simple bar where people come to drink - not for a trendy atmosphere.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

"It Cafe" and Hollywood Plaza Hotel

1637 N. Vine Street, Hollywood, CA
During the 1920s Hollywood was a rapidly growing town and to accommodate all the incoming folks numerous apartment hotels started to spring up. One of those apartment hotels was the Hollywood Plaza Hotel, built in 1924, located at 1637 North Vine Street just south of Hollywood Boulevard.
In the 1940s and 1950s when many broadcast studios were located on or near Vine Street the hotel became popular with radio people. George Burns even had offices at the top of the Hollywood Plaza Hotel. The popular radio DJ Johnny Grant did his show from the Hollywood Plaza Bar. Grant also did a radio show from midnight - 4:00 a.m. in the nearby Ham and Eggers Restaurant. Grant would mix playing records with chatting up all the stars that would drop in - stars as big as Bing Crosby or Jimmy Durante.

Hollywood Plaza Hotel and later "IT Cafe" site.
In 1937, the silent film actress Clara Bow opened a nightclub adjacent to the Plaza, named the "It Cafe" in reference to her popular film "It." By this time Bow was not the big star she used to be and the opening of the club was an attempt to revive her career. Bow managed the place with her husband Rex Bell and at the opening, promised to be in attendance 3 times a week. However, after the birth of her second child Bow gained weight and lost interest in the club. The club would be a short lived venture.

Clara "It Girl" Bow

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Harold Lloyd Los Angeles Film Locations

Harold Lloyd - Downtown Los Angeles
Here is an excellent video that features many Los Angeles filming locations used by silent film comedian Harold Lloyd. Historian and author Annette Lloyd takes us around LA and shows the locations how they appeared in Lloyd's films and how they look today. I think my favorite part is seeing the palm tree lined street when they were just baby palms and today the trees just tower over the street!


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