Saturday, November 27, 2010

William Holden, Hollywood's Golden Boy

William Holden (1930s)

After a couple of small parts in some mediocre films, William Holden was finally being cast in the lead role of a film that Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Pictures, hoped would make his handsome acting acquisition a major star. The year was 1939 and the film was Golden Boy, which also starred Barbara Stanwyck and Adolphe Menjou

Unfortunately, the film's success was mild and it would be a few years before Holden would get such a major role again. This was the magical year 1939, the same year that Gone With The Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Dark Victory, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach and so many other memorable films were released, so Golden Boy had some tough competition at the box office. Nevertheless, Holden would always be known throughout the rest of his career as Golden Boy.

Holden was initially signed under contract to Paramount Pictures after being discovered by talent scout Milt Lewis. It was only by chance that Holden got the part in the Columbia film Golden Boy. Harry Cohn initially wanted John Garfield to star in Golden Boy, but Jack Warner at Warner Bros. refused to loan his star out. The producer of Golden Boy, William Perlberg, suggested they go after an unknown actor, how David O. Selznick did for casting the role of Scarlett O'Hara for Gone With the Wind.

Unknown actors auditioned for the part, including a young Alan Ladd. Other studios submitted screen tests of actors they had under contract. Paramount submitted a screen test with Margaret Young for another unfilled part in the film. In the screen test, reading opposite of Young, was Holden. When Perlberg and the film's director Rouben Mamoulian watched the test they were immediately drawn to Holden. Perlberg and Mamoulian convinced Cohn that Holden was the right guy for Golden Boy and to find out from Paramount who the young actor was.

Cohn phoned Y. Frank Freeman, the production chief at Paramount, to let him know he wanted not only to borrow Holden for his film, but that he also wanted to buy half his contract. Paramount was only paying Holden $50 a week, which meant Cohn could get a potential star for just $25! Freeman agreed and Holden went to work on Golden Boy.

Hollywood Athletic Club, where Holden stayed
during the filming of Golden Boy

To prepare for the part of Joe Bonaparte in Golden Boy, Holden needed to learn how to box, play the violin, and he also needed to take some acting lessons. This meant Holden needed to get up at 6 a.m. every day to drive the 14 miles from his home in South Pasadena to the Columbia studio lot. He often didn't get home to bed until after midnight.  Holden became exhausted and complained to Artie Jacobson, a talent exec at Paramount. Jacobson suggested that he stay at the Hollywood Athletic Club, which was less than a mile from the Columbia studio lot.

Holden was now closer to the studio, but after he received his first paycheck, he noticed that the studio had deducted $60 for rent. Holden complained to Cohn that he was only being paid $50 and now they were deducting $60 from his check - that wasn't right. Holden demanded that the studio pay his rent. Cohn yielded to Holden's request. 

Brown Derby Restaurant on Vine Street, Hollywood

A.C. Lyles, who at the time was working in Paramount's publicity department, helped Holden move into the Hollywood Athletic Club. The two became fast friends. To read another post on A.C. Lyles click here.

After the release of Golden Boy, Holden was loaned out to Warner Bros. to work on the film Invisible Stripes. One night, after Invisible Stripes was released in theaters, Lyles and Holden had dinner at the Brown Derby restaurant on Vine Street. Above is an image from my postcard collection of the Brown Derby as it would have looked at the time.  After dinner the two men drove down Hollywood Boulevard and as they came up to the Warner Theatre, Lyles noticed that the name "William Holden" appeared on the theatre's marquee. 

Former Warner Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard

According to Bob Thomas's biography, "Golden Boy: The Untold Story of William Holden," Lyles commented to Holden, "That must make you feel very proud."

"It doesn't mean a thing to me," Bill replied. "That's another fellow up there on that theater. I'm Bill Beedle [Holden's real name], who is somebody entirely different. I'm grateful that they changed my name. I want to keep myself separated from that other guy."

Your thoughts?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Joan Crawford Arrives in Hollywood

Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford is one of the biggest and most glamorous stars Hollywood has ever seen, but her arrival in California was far from majestic. In 1924, MGM  executive Harry Rapf happened to catch a New York stage production where Lucille LeSuere (as Crawford was then known) was performing as a chorus girl. Rapf arranged a screen test for Crawford, but the results were negative. It would take a couple auditions before Crawford would finally be put under contract. In January, 1925, Crawford left New York City for California. She was twenty-one years old.

West End Hotel, formerly "Washington Hotel"

Crawford stayed at the Washington Hotel (now the West End Hotel), located at 3927 Van Buren Place, in Culver City. The modest hotel is only a few blocks from the former MGM lot (now Sony) so Crawford's commute to the studio would have been an easy walk. The hotel is a three story building with fifty-three rooms and is an architectural example of the Zigzag moderne style. It was built by R.P. Davidson in 1923, only a couple years before Crawford arrived, for Jessee M. Lewis, the original owner of the hotel.

West End Hotel, 3927 Van Buren Place, Culver City

Crawford's first few months at MGM were a little slow. The studio didn't quite know what to do with their new find, who in 1925, was more of a dancer than an actress. Rather than wait for something to happen, Crawford took it upon herself to make something happen. She wandered the studio lot learning whatever she could: acting tips from other actors, make-up tips, from the make-up artists, how to appear best on camera from the many technicians. When she wasn't exploring the studio Crawford was out on the town socializing. Crawford often entered local dance contests and usually won. She did whatever she could to promote herself.

St. Augustine's Catholic Church

In addition to promoting herself, Crawford would make a stop each morning before going to the studio at the St. Augustine's Catholic Church, located directly across the street from MGM.  Crawford made a pit-stop to pray for her success in Hollywood. This was the 1920s, at MGM, where Crawford was competing against a large roster of stars including Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, Lillian Gish and Marion Davies. Crawford needed all the help she could get.

St. Augustine's Church, Culver City

Over time, the MGM executives would take notice of Crawford and begin throwing her in different films. They would soon be grooming her for bigger and better parts. 

As Crawford began to settle in Culver City, she moved out of the Washington Hotel and in to a three bedroom bungalow on Genessee Street. She would stay there a short while, until MGM loaned her $28,000 to purchase a house at 513 N. Roxbury Drive, in Beverly Hills.

Joan Crawford's home at 513 N. Roxbury Drive

The home on Roxbury Drive was a spacious five bedroom, five bath house, located just a few blocks from the commercial part of Beverly Hills. Built in 1925, the home was originally owned by Herbert Howe, writer for the fan magazine Photoplay, and also well known for being Ramon Navarro's lover. Crawford lived in this home during the years 1927 and 1928.

Your thoughts?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

An Evening with Dick Van Dyke & The Vantastix

Dick Van Dyke & The Vantastix

Funny man Dick Van Dyke will be doing a special performance at The GRAMMY Museum along with his a cappella group The Vantastix. The television, Broadway, film star, and all-around entertainer will first do a discussion about his varied career before he and his group sing songs from their latest album,  Put on a Happy Face. The event will benefit The GRAMMY Museum and The Midnight Mission.

When: Friday, December 3, 2010; 8pm
Where: The Grammy Museum at L.A. Live
Cost: Tickets are $125
For more information: visit

Monday, November 15, 2010

Interview With Filmmaker Douglas Elford-Argent

The Brazen Bull

The new film, The Brazen Bull, starring Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill), is now available on DVD; so if you're in the mood for a creepy thriller you should pick up a copy. I recently had the chance to ask the director and writer Douglas Elford-Argent, who like me has a strong interest in the film history of Los Angeles, a few questions about his latest film. Here's how it went:

Like me, I know you have an interest in classic films, but before we talk about that why don't you tell us a little about your latest film The Brazen Bull. What's the movie about? 

Sure, The Brazen Bull is a Thriller set in an abandoned building where our lead character, played by Michael Madsen, feels he has been robbed from the economy and takes his revenge on three young kids.

How did the story come about?

 I wrote the first draft 6 months before production began (May 2009) we went through a few changes and I handed my draft over to two great writers, Thomas Bilyeu and Chris Van de Polder. They are responsible for the final script that's up on the screen. Gregg Luckman (EP) gave me total creative control on this movie, so I have a lot to thank him for, his trust for a young director was fantastic, he's a great Producer and hope to work with him again.

What was it like directing a star like Michael Madsen? 

Michael is an old school actor, he loves improv and respects any young director that will let him run free. What ended up on the screen was about 80% of the script, Michael added his Madsen touches and filled the gaps. He's a true listener and trusted my vision and direction.

Working with a veteran actor like Madsen, did you learn anything in regards to your directing? 

Yes a lot, he showed me how to think on my feet and to trust the actor you hired for the role, Michael likes to shoot a scene and then start to play with it, showing me what he can bring to the table.

Michael Madsen and Douglas Elford-Argent

Can you tell us a little about the rest of the cast? 

Yes, we have Rachel Hunter who plays a Detective and mother to our lead actress played by Jennifer Tisdale. My wife, Gwendolyn Garver, played a supporting role along with David Fletcher.

It seems like you could have set this story in a few different metropolises. You're from London originally, so why set this story in Los Angeles? 

Well I moved to LA about 7 years ago, I have shot many movies in London which I am very proud of, London is a great backdrop with it's historic buildings. I think people forget how much history Los Angeles has, there is so much to uncover in Hollywood. 

On this blog I often do posts on classic film locations. I think sometimes it's just as exciting seeing where films were made as seeing the movies. Can you tell us about some of the locations you filmed at? 

We found a 14 story office building (Van Nuys) that was abandoned during the 1994 Northridge earthquake, we had total access but there was no power on each floor which made my crew go a little mad. All of our sets were built inside this building on the 1st floor, we had 4 sets built in total, from a torture chamber to apartment buildings. For the exterior shots of each apartment building we visited Downtown LA, where there are many old buildings that have the 'New York' feel, we chose two great looking buildings on 7th and Olive.

Now let's turn to you. Why did you leave London for Los Angeles? 

I have loved LA ever since I was a young boy, I grew up watching Chaplin and Harold Lloyd movies and dreamed of making movies in their town. I ran the New York Film Academy in London and that's where I met my wife 'Wendy', we both decided that Hollywood was the place to start.

Douglas Elford-Argent at the camera.

Did you always have an interests in films? 

Yes right from when I turned 11 years old, back then I wanted to be a camera operator, but I have never wanted to do anything else but make movies.

What are some of your favorite movies? What films have really inspired you as a filmmaker? 

That's always a tough question, there are movie that inspire me as a director and I learn so much from their work, but there are movies that I simply wish I could have my name on them. I learn a lot from David Fincher (Seven, Zodiac) and Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X) both these directors showed me both camera and acting skills. I am a big fan of disaster movies so I envy Irwin Allen and his franchise. 

Who are some of your favorite classic actors/actresses/directors? 

Directors I love - Lee and Fincher, for actors I love Downey Jr and DiCaprio.

Getting back to The Brazen Bull, where can people go to see this movie? 

It's hard to book theaters for such a small movie, but our film is available everywhere on DVD, there is also a great behind the scenes featurette on the DVD too, or people can watch the film being made at

Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. Any last comments? 

I hope I can continue to show Hollywood as a growing city and not a has been.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Vincent Price's "Little Gallery"

Vincent Price 1940s

Vincent Price is most famous for being an actor, particularly of sinister characters which he so often portrayed in his later acting career, but Price was nearly as well known as a connoisseur of art. Price always had a fascination with art. As a twelve-year-old in St. Louis, Price purchased his first Rembrandt, a small etching entitled Two Nude Models, One Standing. The piece of art captivated Price so much that he saved his allowance for a year and worked odd jobs to purchase the etching. This was the beginning of Price's long association of art.

Price would go on to study art at Yale and then later at the University of London. He continued to study art by visiting museums and collecting. By the 1960s, Price had become so synonymous with art that the Sears department store approached him to be a spokesperson for a new art department they were creating. In the position, Price travelled the world buying and selecting quality pieces of art that Sears would then sell in their stores to their customers. The line of art would be known as the Vincent Price Collection for Sears. Price was essentially bringing fine art to the masses. 

A couple decades earlier, in the 1940s, Price, along with friend and fellow actor George Macready, opened an art gallery in Beverly Hills. Both Price and Macready had been stage actors in New York, where there were many museums and great collections of art, but when the two came to Hollywood, they quickly realized Los Angeles lacked a strong art community. Despite all the affluent people and the large size of Los Angeles, there wasn't that many great collections of art, galleries, or even a community supportive of fine art. Price and Macready sought to change that.

The Little Gallery
9461 Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills

In 1943, the two actors opened "The Little Gallery," located at 9461 Santa Monica Boulevard, in Beverly Hills, near the famous Rodeo Drive. I found the address for the gallery by looking in a Beverly Hills City Directory from 1943.  Above is a photo of the Little Gallery location. I'm not sure if this is the original building that housed the gallery, only remodeled, or if the building was torn down and a new structure erected in its place? If you know the answer to that please comment.

According to Vincent Price: A Daughter's Biography, by Victoria Price, the rent for the small shop was $65 a month. The gallery was filled mainly with paintings and drawings that Price and Macready had purchased from their days in New York, pieces from their own collection, and works by California artists. 

Victoria Price wrote the following about the opening night of the gallery in her book: "They launched the opening show with vodka martinis dripped out of a silver-plated porcelain-lined urn that Vincent's mother had given him for serving iced tea. As he recalled, 'Most of our friends liked martinis, especially free ones, and we drew an overflow crowd who hadn't the slightest intention of buying anything. A few idle pricing passes were made, but no purchases; but the main joy was that we were launched and art was back in our lives."

The Little Gallery was a success. California artists and visiting artists were always coming in, as well as a crowd from a nearby bar. Even big celebrities of the time would come in to buy art, including Charles LaughtonOtto PremingerGreta Garbo, and Katherine Hepburn to name a few. Unfortunately, Price and Mcready did not have the time for both their movie careers and for running a gallery, so the store closed in 1944, after about two years in operation.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Union Station (1950) - Film Locations

(c) Paramount Pictures

The same year (1950) actors William Holden and Nancy Olson appeared in the classic noir film, Sunset Boulevard, they also appeared in another less classic noir film together - Union Station. Unlike Sunset Boulevard which has a solid story, strong characters, masterful cinematography, and the Billy Wilder touch, Union Station works on a thin plot, using simple characters, with little depth. Nevertheless, Union Station does contain enough action and suspense that it can be a fun film to watch. 

In the film, Holden plays a detective at Union Station who is alerted by a train passenger played by Olson, that there were two suspicious men aboard her train. As it turns out, the men are part of a larger group of crooks involved in a kidnapping and are using Union Station as the location for the ransom drop-off point.

The true gem of this movie is the use of the Los Angeles Union Station as a filming location. As the title suggests, nearly the entire film is set at Union Station. The best part is little has changed at Union Station from the time of the film. One can really time travel back to 1950 by visiting the train station. Below I have captured a few images of Union Station comparing the site as it appears in the film versus how it appears today.


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