Friday, April 29, 2011

Ralph Bellamy Arrives in Hollywood, Has Dinner With Clark Gable

Ralph Bellamy

Once sound made its way into films many silent film stars soon found themselves out of work. Some silent stars didn't have voices that fit their on-screen image. Others were foreign actors who suddenly needed to be able to speak English, which wasn't an issue for silent films. For many silent actors though, they just didn't possess the ability to memorize and speak lines. The Hollywood studios quickly turned to Broadway in order to find trained actors that could meet the needs of the new talking pictures. This is the era that actor Ralph Bellamy entered Hollywood.

Prior to films, Bellamy had been honing his acting skills on the stage, first in stock theatre and eventually Broadway. Just before Bellamy moved to Hollywood he was cast as the part of Texas in the play Roadside, which ran at the Longacre Theatre in New York. What Bellamy thought was going to be a big hit ended up closing after just eleven performances. Fortunately, for Bellamy, he was getting contract offers from a few major movie studios. Bellamy signed with United Artists, headed by Joseph Schenck, and like so many actors during this time, left the stage for the screen.

The Knickerbocker Hotel

Bellamy took a first class train from New York to Los Angeles. When he arrived in Los Angeles he moved into the Knickerbocker Hotel located at 1714 Ivar Avenue in Hollywood. The hotel, which is now senior apartments, used to be a choice hotel for many newly arrived actors. 

It was November when Bellamy arrived in Hollywood and the city was dressed for Christmas. The city was having a Christmas parade. A truck pulling a large propeller rolled down Hollywood Boulevard in which a man threw confetti that then blew like snow over the spectators. This was followed by Santa Clause in his sleigh, musicians in folk costumes and various other parade vehicles. It was a hot November, especially for an actor who just came from New York.

Henry's Restaurant (Photo from Getty Images)

Former site of Henry's Restaurant

Rather than going to work right away for United Artists, Schenck loaned out his newly acquired star to Irving Thalberg over at M-G-M. Thalberg, in December 1930, put Bellamy to work in the film The Secret Six, which also starred Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, and Clark Gable. Bellamy played "Johnny Franks," a bootlegger/cafe owner.

One night during the filming of The Secret Six, Bellamy went and had dinner at Henry's Restaurant in Hollywood. Henry's was financed by Charlie Chaplin and operated by fellow silent film actor, Henry Bergman. According to the book, The Story of Hollywood, by Gregory Paul Williams, Henry's was the first restaurant in Hollywood to stay open after midnight. It was Al Jolson's favorite spot to eat after the fights at Legion Stadium and was a favorite spot of actress Myrna Loy, as well as many other Hollywood celebrities of the time.

Clark Gable

While at Henry's, Bellamy's co-star Gable came into the restaurant and sat next to him. After Gable ordered his meal, Bellamy, in his autobiography, When the Smoke Hit the Fan, says their exchange went like this:
"What do you think of all this out here?" [asked Gable]
"I don't know yet," I answered. "I haven't been here long enough to form an opinion."
"I just got eleven thousand dollars for playing a heavy in a Bill Boyd Western," he exclaimed. "Eleven thousand dollars!" he went on, almost in disbelief. "No actor's worth that. This can't last. I've got myself a room at the Castle Argyle [an inexpensive hostelry at the top of Vine Street] and a secondhand Ford. I'm socking away everything I can and I'm not buying anything I can't put on The Chief. This just can't last."
While Gable's thinking was wise, his fears never did come true. Both Bellamy and Gable went onto have successful careers until the end of their lives.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bureau of Missing Persons (1933) - Film Locations

(c) Warner Bros. Entertainment

Bureau of Missing Persons, the second on-screen pairing of Pat O'Brien and Bette Davis, is not the greatest film in either actor's filmography, but this fast paced film does have some fine moments. The weakness is in the story, but seeing performances by a young O'Brien and Davis, as well as the comedic Allen Jenkins, make it worth watching at least once. 

In this screwball crime story, O'Brien plays Butch Saunders, who is assigned to work in Missing Persons because he was too brutal in his previous police assignment. After successfully solving his first Missing Persons case, Butch is assigned to find Norma Robert's (Davis) missing husband, Therme. Butch is attracted to Norma, so when he finds out that she is wanted for murder he doesn't believe it.  When Butch is sent to arrest Norma he lets her go. Later Norma's clothes are found at a dock and it appears that she has committed suicide. Butch doesn't believe Norma has killed herself so he stages a fake funeral where both Norma (who has come to see her own funeral) and Roberts have been lured out of hiding.  Norma informs Butch that Roberts killed his twin brother making it appear that he himself was dead in order to escape embezzlement charges. Butch and Norma chase down Roberts to bring him into the police department to prove his guilt and Norma's innocence.

I've tracked down most of the film locations seen during the chase scene and I'm amazed that for the most part, the locations have changed very little in nearly 80 years!

Pat O'Brien and Bette Davis

In this first location we see Roberts making his getaway, driving down 8th Street in downtown Los Angeles and making a left onto Spring Street. You will notice that all of the buildings in the background are still standing today. The hotel in the center of the screenshot is still a hotel today.

Eighth Street at Spring Street, Los Angeles

Eighth Street at Spring Street, Los Angeles (2011)

Turning onto Spring Street

8th Street and Spring Street, Los Angeles

8th Street at Spring Street, Los Angeles

8th Street at Spring Street

This next location took me a while to find. I kept second guessing myself. I wasn't absolutely sure if this was the location I thought it was, but then I found the proof I needed. The clue that made me certain that I had found the correct location is the "Brack Shops" sign in the upper right corner of the screenshot. I knew that the former Brack Shops building was located on Seventh Street and that presently it is known as the Collection building. In the next scene we see Roberts being chased down Seventh Street near the intersection of Olive. You can also see this same intersection from different camera angles in my previous posts on the film locations for the Joan Crawford film Possessed (1947) and the Charlie Chaplin film, City Lights. What I find amusing is how Bette Davis used this same film location 14 years before her famous antagonist, Joan Crawford.

Seventh Street near Olive, Los Angeles

Seventh Street near Olive, Los Angeles

This third location also took me a while to find. You will notice in the screenshot that the cars are driving by a corner building with theatre popcorn lights. Immediately, I assumed it was the former downtown Los Angeles Warner Theatre. It was the only theatre that I knew of that had a rounded marquee like that and was located on the corner of an intersection. The thing that bothered me though was that none of the background buildings where the Warner Theatre stands matched up with what is seen in the film. After doing some further research on downtown LA movie palaces I came across an old photo for the RKO Hill Street Theatre which stood at the intersection of Eighth Street and Hill Street. This theatre, like the Warner, was also located on a corner and had a rounded marquee. However, the RKO theatre was torn down sometime in the 1960s. When I went to the corner of Eighth and Hill, although the theatre is long gone, all the other buildings in the background are still standing and very recognizable. See for yourself.

Hill Street near Eighth Street, Los Angeles

Hill Street near Eighth Street, Los Angeles

Turning onto Eighth Street, Los Angeles

Corner of Eighth Street and Hill Street

Looking down Eighth Street

Looking down Eight Street

Another view of Eighth Street

Another view of Eighth Street

This last location was the easiest to find. I recognized it immediately. This is part of the Warner Bros. backlot known as "Brownstone Street." What is incredible to me is how little this part of the Warner Bros. studio has changed since 1933! Of course, you probably will recognize thousands of films that used this location over the last several decades.

Warner Bros. Studios Brownstone Street

Warner Bros. Brownstone Street

Pat O'Brien on the WB Brownstone Street

A closer look at Brownstone Street

Bureau of Missing Persons may not be the greatest film, but like I said, the film has its moments. My favorite scene is one of O'Brien and Davis sitting at a lunch counter inside of a diner. A man to their right asks for some sugar, so O'Brien slides the container. Next, a man to their left asks for the ketchup, so Davis slides the bottle down the counter. Then O'Brien asks for the sugar, salt, ketchup, pepper and everything comes sliding back at him all at once in one mess.

If you would like to see Bureau of Missing Persons for yourself, it is available through the Warner Archive Collection.

Your thoughts?


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