Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Rockford Files - Film Locations - Donut Prince in Burbank

While watching the Season 2 episode of THE ROCKFORD FILES, The Girl in The Bay City Boys Club (1975), I was surprised to spot the Donut Prince, in Burbank, California. I knew the Donut Prince sign was old, but I never thought the place was serving up fresh pastries in the early 1970s when Jim Rockford (James Garner) would be driving by in his gold Pontiac Firebird Esprit. I've been making trips to Donut Prince for the last 10 years (fortunately my waistline doesn't show it), so when I caught a glimpse of the unique neon yellow sign it stood out immediately.

Click images to enlarge.

James Garner on Olive Avenue, Burbank, CA

Donut Prince sign hidden just behind the trees. Olive Ave, Burbank.

The Donut Prince is located at 1721 W. Olive Avenue, Burbank, California. Just behind the Donut Prince is a McDonald's which is also still in business. The Safeway that can be seen just before the Donut Prince was later a Von's grocery store and then a few years ago it was changed into a CVS Pharmacy.

In the comparison below we can see that on the opposite side of the street there is a liquor store and a bank. Today there are still a bank and liquor store at these locations but not the same bank and liquor store from the date of the Rockford Files screenshot.

Garner looks into his mirror while passing the Safeway on Olive Ave.

The Safeway is now a CVS Pharmacy. Olive Ave, Burbank.

The Donut Prince has been used a few times as a filming location (Larry Crowne, T.J. Hooker) and is also popular with celebrities. Pictures of stars who have dined there adorn the walls. George Lopez apparently is an especially big fan of the place. Even though the place is a donut shop, I primarily go for the hot ham and cheese croissants. 

This episode of the Rockford Files includes many other Valley locations, including the Burbank YMCA, and a North Hollywood Jack-in-the-Box and Bob's Big Boy. Check out this Rockford Files website for additional locations.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Talking Old Hollywood: John Bengtson, Silent Filming Locations Historian

Author and Historian, John Bengtson

I'm back with another installment of Talking Old Hollywood and this time I had the chance to ask silent filming locations expert and historian John Bengtson a few questions. John has written three expertly researched books chronicling the filming locations of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. He blogs about these and other silent filming locations at his website Silent Locations. John's detective work uncovering many long gone or deeply hidden locations is impressive. I'm honored to have him share a little about his research, interest in silent films, and which of the three silent film comedian greats he would choose to spend the day with. 

How and when did you first become interested in silent films?

I grew up watching silent movies on Public Television, and seeing the Robert Youngson compilations.  The good silent comedians were so talented and clever that they immediately hooked me.

When did that interest evolve into hunting down silent film locations?

I’ve always enjoyed looking at old photographs, and how they draw you into real-world environments from the past.  But my interest in the location work began as a fluke.  When Buster Keaton’s films first became available on home video in 1995, I was surprised to notice that a chase scene from Day Dreams (1922) was clearly filmed in North Beach in San Francisco, near where I once used to live.  So I set my camera up on a tripod, took photos of the scenes off of my television set, and after getting the photos back from the drug store (this was all pre-digital!), I walked around North Beach armed with my snapshots and quickly found all five spots.  It was a very odd sensation to stand in a spot where many elements were exactly the same as when Buster had filmed there, and contemplating all of the history over the decades these buildings had silently witnessed.  I never set out to do a series of books, but what started as a simple curiosity kept expanding, and triggering amazing coincidences and lucky breaks, until it reached the point where I just gave in to it, to see where it would lead.  That process continues expanding even today.

What are your methods for finding locations and how might they have changed over time?

My first approach is to look for street signs and business signs in the background. Sometimes you get lucky and can find things this way quite easily using the old city directories. In one movie Keaton actually covered up a street sign with a paper bag, but I still figured out where it was filmed!  I also look for trolley tracks, “T” intersections, and special use buildings like churches and schools.  The ridge lines in the background are also good markers.

Apart from the city directories, I like to use vintage maps and aerial photographs.  The Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maintained large scale maps, covering just a block or two at a time, detailing the precise footprint and construction materials of nearly every building in Los Angeles.  The Baist Atlases were drawn with a broader view, showing all of the buildings within a several block radius.  The US Geological Survey’s topographic maps from the early 1900s also show streets and neighborhoods as they once looked. 

My favorite tools are low elevation oblique vintage aerial photographs, with views like you would see from a helicopter.  These photos are true time machines, placing everything in context to everything else.  What did this corner look like, what was across the street, what was nearby?  A good aerial photo provides all of the answers, and often reveals how related shots were staged adjacent to each other.  

The Internet has made everything so much easier.  I once had to travel to Los Angeles in person to study research materials, and drive around looking for clues.  Today the city directories, the maps, even the old Los Angeles Times newspapers, are all available for searching online.  Likewise, with Google Street View and Bing Bird’s Eye View, I can zoom to any spot in Los Angeles to verify matches, and to confirm whether buildings are still standing, without leaving my computer at home. 
What is the most satisfying silent film location you discovered and why?

I found a block on Bronson and Olympic appearing during a tracking shot in Keaton’s Seven Chances (1924) as Buster is chased by a hoard of angry brides across a commercial street and one-by-one past a series of bungalow homes.  Ninety years later, the commercial buildings, and five consecutive bungalows are all still standing. 

The only clue was a blurry bank sign in the background for a branch with a short name and a longer name.  Checking the city directory for short name-longer name combinations, none of the possible branch locations, such as the Pico & Alvarado branch, matched the setting.  I was confused by this for over two years until I somehow realized that the longer name “Tenth” used in the city directory could be spelled as a short name “10th” on a sign, and thus checked the setting for the Tenth and Bronson branch, which turned out to be the correct spot.  (Tenth Street was later re-named Olympic to promote Los Angeles hosting the 1932 Olympic Games.)  

I don’t know if taking two years to associate Tenth and 10th means I am clever or slow, but it had bothered me for such a long time, so when I finally figured it out, and saw in person that the buildings were all still standing, it was incredibly satisfying.  (This was all long before the instant gratification of checking on Google Street View.  I have to laugh, because back then I had to wait months for my next trip to Los Angeles before learning whether the street was still unchanged.)

Is there any location that you haven’t found yet that you continue to research?

I was stumped by one location for years until a helpful reader of my blog solved it for me!  Early in Lloyd’s Safety Last! (1923) Bill Stother, the real life Human Spider who plays Harold’s friend, climbs a four story building in order to escape a cop. The building stood facing south along an east-west trolley line, next to an alley and the “California Garage.”  Despite all of these clues I could never figure it out.  Thankfully a reader, following only hunches, was able to identify it as the former Dresden Apartments, still standing, although heavily remodeled, at 1919 W 7th Street.  You can read about his discovery here.

Have you met any interesting people or had any unusual experiences since starting this hobby?

Well, to start, I’ve been able to meet my hero, Kevin Brownlow, several times.  I also met Mrs. Eleanor Keaton, and had a fun afternoon driving her around on a tour of Buster’s filming locations.  She and Buster once lived very near Bronson and Olympic, where he had staged that tracking shot from Seven Chances, yet it never occurred to him to mention this to her.  I’m also honored to know Harold Lloyd’s grand-daughter Suzanne, and Chaplin’s biographer David Robinson.  Lastly, I have been able to meet so many wonderful authors, historians, and movie fans along the way – it’s really been a great experience.

You’ve written fabulous books on the filming locations of the three greatest silent film comedians: Keaton, Chaplin and Lloyd. If you could select one of them to spend the day with, who would it be and what would you guys do during that day?

I’d pick Keaton of the three, hands down.  Keaton always struck me as the most down to earth and least affected by fame.  It would be great just to hear him reminisce, and prompt him for stories.  Of course it would also be fun to take him on a tour, and hear what memories and associations revisiting these places would trigger.

There are many locations in these silent films that have been demolished and now only exist on film. If you could actually travel back in time what now lost location would you like to visit in person?

There are a number of amazing lost neighborhoods, including the original 1880s Chinatown, the old Venice amusement park piers, and Bunker Hill.  But if I could pick just one spot it would be Court Hill. 

The distinctive twin bore Hill Street Tunnel ran beneath Court Hill, the second of LA’s two incline railways, Court Flight, ran up and down Court Hill, and standing guard over it all was the unbelievably ornate Bradbury Mansion.  It was here, overlooking the Hill Street Tunnel, that so many high rise stunt climbing comedies such Harold Lloyd’s Never Weaken were filmed. The technique involved constructing a single story set above the tunnel overlook, and filming across the face of the set to capture the low-lying streets of LA in the background, while cutting off from view the bottom of the set resting on the ground.  The resulting illusion made it appear as if the set were many stories up in the air.  Further, Hill Street, which is relatively flat, was so-named because it originally lead straight to Court Hill, where it terminated before the tunnels were built. Today not a shred remains of the hill that gave Hill Street its name; it’s all been completely bulldozed.

Do you have a favorite film (silent, sound, or both) and what makes it so?

It’s difficult to answer.  Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd are all great, but I also enjoy Fields, the Marx Bros., Laurel & Hardy, pre-Code, noir, classics, and goofy cult films like The Big Lebowski and Napoleon Dynamite.  I especially enjoy Roman Polanski’s Chinatown.  Because of the movies, it’s difficult for me to imagine the 1920s and 30s in anything but black and white.  Whenever I try hard to image the 1930s in color, it always ends up looking like Chinatown.

What do you do when not tracking down filming locations?

Well, aside from watching old movies, I try to read lots of books, I enjoy hiking and bicycling near where I live, and I like playing the piano.

Do you have any special projects you are working on now or that are coming up?

My SilentLocations blog keeps me fairly busy.  I have ideas for some further books, but the researching and writing takes several years, like running a marathon, and so I don’t anticipate starting a new book for at least a couple of years.

If you made it reading this far, thank you so much, this was fun.  Thank you Robby.


Thanks John. You can find John's books here and visit his blog here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Champagne For Caesar (1950) - Film Locations

In Champagne For Caesar (1950), Vincent Price, the "Master of Horror," shows that not only can he be sinister, but uproariously funny as well. I'm actually quite surprised that after this film that Price didn't do more comedies than he did. He nearly steals every scene in which he appears. But seeing Price in a perfect comedic part is just one of the delightful reasons that make Caesar a fun film to watch.

The story centers on Beauregard Bottomley, a genius (naturally played by Ronald Coleman) who goes on a television quiz show. While Coleman is on the show, he keeps getting all the questions correct and wins more and more money. The show's sponsor, the Milady Soap Co., headed by Price, wants to stop Coleman from winning. His solution is to send the seductive Celeste Holm after Coleman as a distraction. Coleman must resist Holm if he wants to continue winning on the show.

Click images to see larger.

CBS Columbia Square as seen in Champagne For Caesar.

CBS Columbia Square, 6121 Sunset Boulevard.

The quiz show takes place at CBS Columbia Square, located at 6121 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. See the comparison above showing how the building appears in the film compared to how the building appears today. This building served as CBS's radio and television operations for the West Coast from 1938 to 2007. Many popular radio programs originated here, including shows for Jack Benny, Jimmy Durante, Donald O. Connor, Burns and Allen, and Steve Allen. When television arrived, shows such as The Ed Wynn Show and the pilot episode for I Love Lucy were produced here. According to the book, James Dean: Dream As If You'll Live Forever, author Karen Clemens Warrick mentions that James Dean was an usher at CBS. She writes of Dean's experience that "Dean enjoyed watching the shows, but he did not like being told what to do and what to wear. He called the uniform a 'monkey suit.' He was fired at the end of the first week."

Art Linkletter and Ronald Colman at CBS.

Art Linkletter stars in the film as the quiz show host. In real life Linkletter was a popular radio and television host including the popular CBS program House Party, which ran for 25 years.

Vincent Price and Celeste Holm.

Red Studios Hollywood located at 846 North Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood was the location used for the Milady Soap Co. headquarters. The independent studio lot, first built in 1915, has had many previous tenants over the years and has been known at various times as the Metro Pictures Back Lot #3,  Motion Picture Center Studios, DesiLu Cahuenga Studios, Television Center Studios, and Ren-Mar Studios. Although the main entrance to the studio is on Cahuenga, for Champagne For Caesar the back entrance to the studio located on Lillian Way was used to film the entrance to the Milady Soap Co. Although the studio has been drastically remodeled, there are some details that are still the same, like the power source on the side of the building in the red circle and the sliding wire fence.

Red Studios Hollywood used for the "Milady Soap Co."

The back entrance to Red Studios located on Lillian Way.

During one part in the film we see Celeste Holm take Ronald Colman on a wild ride through Hollywood. They mainly drive down Hollywood Boulevard and then make a turn from Hollywood on to Vine Street heading south. They pass such landmarks as the Egyptian Theatre, the Vogue Theatre, and in the distance of one shot we see radio towers that stand on top of the Warner Hollywood Theatre.

Hollywood Boulevard approaching Las Palmas Ave.

Hollywood Blvd looking towards Las Palmas Ave.

In the comparison above we can see that the Egyptian Theatre is still standing on the right, the Vogue Theatre is still on the left, and in the distance the radio towers are still standing on top of what was formerly the Warner Hollywood Theatre.

Hollywood Boulevard and Cherokee Avenue.

Hollywood Boulevard at Cherokee Avenue.

In the next scene Holm and Colman turn from Hollywood Boulevard on to Vine Street heading south. In the background we get a glimpse of the Melody Lane Restaurant located on the northwest corner of Hollywood and Vine. Before this building was the Melody Lane Restaurant it was Carl Laemmle's Coco Tree Cafe. Laemmle (yes, the Universal Studios mogul) had hired architect Richard Neutra in 1932 to design a modern and fancy lunch spot, but with the idea that there would be billboards above the restaurant advertising Universal pictures. The Coco Tree Cafe was a success but when Carl Laemmle died in 1939, the Pig 'n' Whistle manager Sidney Hoedemaker took over the location and completely remodeled the building, turning it into the Melody Lane Restaurant. After Melody Lane the building would have several other tenants including Hody's, Howard Johnson's,  and most recently Basque Nightclub, until a fire destroyed the place in 2008. Today the corner is an empty lot.

Colman and Holm pass the Melody Lane restaurant at Hollywood and Vine.

Looking north on Vine Street across Hollywood Blvd. Vintage postcard view.

The same intersection of Hollywood and Vine as it appears now.

The final round of the quiz show takes place at another Hollywood landmark, the Hollywood Bowl. In the next two comparisons we first see cars arriving at the entrance to the Hollywood Bowl located on Highland Avenue and in the second the interior of the Hollywood Bowl. The Hollywood Bowl, an outdoor amphitheater primarily used for summer concerts, has long been a popular filming location. Other films that feature the Hollywood Bowl include A Star is Born (1937), Hollywood or Bust (1956), Moonlight Murder (1936), Two On A Guillotine (1965), It's A Good Feeling (1949), Anchors Aweigh (1945), and Double Indemnity (1944).

The Hollywood Bowl entrance as seen in the film.

The Hollywood Bowl entrance.

The quiz show moves inside the Hollywood Bowl.

A modern view inside the Hollywood Bowl.

Champagne For Caesar can be rented through ClassicFlix. The film includes a great cast with superb comedic performances. Add this to your queue the next time you're looking for a few laughs or are interested in seeing a few Hollywood landmarks.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Night Moves (1975) - Film Locations

Night Moves (1975), is a 70s era detective story starring Gene Hackman as a detective hired by an aging movie starlet to find her daughter. What at first appears to be a straight forward missing persons case turns out to be much more convoluted. What I found interesting about this film is that it features two old Burbank, California movie theaters that no longer exist. One was demolished and another has been completely remodeled and turned into a recording studio.

The first movie house seen in the film is the Magnolia Theater located at 4403 W. Magnolia Boulevard. In the film, Hackman is following his wife, who he discovers is having an affair when she walks out of the theater with another man. Classic movie fans may recognize this theater as the place where Fred MacMurray first meets Kim Novak in the crime film PUSHOVER (1954). The Magnolia Theater building is located just a mile and a half away from the Warner Bros. Studios lot, the studio that produced this film. Today the building is used as a recording studio and has been greatly remodeled from its days as a theater. The theater was built in 1940 and closed in 1979, just four years after Night Moves was released.

Click images to see larger.

Gene Hackman outside Burbank's Magnolia Theatre.

The former Magnolia Theatre building at 4403 W. Magnolia Blvd, Burbank, Ca.

Another view of the Magnolia Theatre as seen in Night Moves (1975).

The Magnolia Theatre building at 4403 W. Magnolia Blvd.

The screenshot below is of a building located next door to the Magnolia Theatre. That structure is also still standing, although remodled.

Building next door to Magnolia Theatre as seen in Night Moves.

The structure next door to the Magnolia Theatre.

Another old Burbank movie theater that appears in Night Moves is the old Cornell Theatre located at 1212 N. San Fernando Blvd, which can be seen in the screenshot below. What first caught my eye from the screenshot was the old Taco Bell sign and the McDonald's sign. From driving down this street multiple times before I remembered a Taco Bell restaurant and McDonald's located right next to each other. I figured if the earlier scene was filmed in Burbank then maybe this scene was also filmed in Burbank and perhaps at this location. What I didn't recognize was the Cornell neon sign on the right of the screenshot, but I recalled there being a Cornell Theatre in Burbank. I assumed that this must have been the location - and I was right.  That intersection where the Cornell Theatre stands is San Fernando Blvd and Cornell Drive.

The Cornell Theatre opened on November 18, 1949 and was demolished in 1980 after closing in 1978 - just three years after Night Moves was released. According to the website Cinema Treasures, The Cornell Theatre "had two main aisles that ran down the theatre... Inside the auditorium, all seating was on a single level. There were Art Deco style 'swirls' on the side-walls and on each side of the proscenium. The curved ceiling contained 'twinkling star' lights, giving a semi-Atmospheric style to the decoration."

Gene Hackman drives past the now demolished Cornell Theatre.

Looking down San Fernando Blvd. The Cornell Theatre once stood below the yellow arrow.

Night Moves (1972) was directed by Arthur Penn. Also starring are Jennifer Warren, Susan Clark and in early roles, James Woods and Melanie Griffith. The film is available on DVD and is currently available for streaming on Warner Archive Instant. If you like 1970s era detective/crime films like Klute (1971) or The Long Goodbye (1973), then this may be your thing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Young Philadelphians (1959) - Film Locations


Coming up on TCM as part of their Summer Under the Stars tribute to actress Alexis Smith, is one of my favorite Paul Newman films, The Young Philadelphians (1959). Newman plays an up and coming young lawyer, who despite having  a respected family name in Philadelphia society, has to work his way up the corporate ladder. Along the way he faces several ethical dilemmas.

As the title suggests, the film is set in Philadelphia, however, the movie was actually filmed in California in Glendale, Pacific Palisades and the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank.  Here are the primary filming locations seen in the film.

The film opens with a scene at a church that is supposed to be located on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. There is even a street sign that reads Rittenhouse Square, but I didn't buy that the film crew would have gone to Philadelphia to shoot this scene so I started researching old Los Angeles churches that had a clock tower. I then found a photo of a matching church in the Los Angeles Library collection. Below are two screenshots of the church in the film, a photograph of the church from the 1920s, and an image showing the same modern day location.

Click images to see larger.

The church as seen in the film.

Don't let the street sign fool you. This is no where near Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square.

Glendale Presbyterian Church.  Corner of Harvard and Louise Streets. Photo Credit: LAPL

Current Glendale Presbyterian Church. Corner of Harvard and Louise Streets.

The Glendale Presbyterian Church building that is seen in the film was constructed in 1923, but was destroyed by an earthquake in 1971. There was so much damage that the building had to be demolished and a new building was later built on the same site on top of the existing basement.

Early in the film we see Paul Newman as a young guy managing a construction site. That big hole in the ground was actually on Warner Bros. New York Street backlot. Below you can see a screenshot showing the New York Street set and a modern image of the same set location.

Warner Bros. New York Street backlot used for a Philadelphia construction site.

Warner Bros. New York Street Backlot.

Paul Newman duking it out on WB's New York Street backlot.

Newman's character ends up falling in love with a young socialite played by Barbara Rush. In one scene Newman takes Rush back to her family home. The exterior of the home was actually the Warner Bros. Brownstone Street. These Warner Bros. facades are constantly being changed for project to project and in fact the facade used in the scene below was again being changed out when I took the modern day image.

Warner Bros. Brownstone Street was used for the home of Barbara Rush.

Warner Bros. Brownstone Street as it appears today.

Below is a view of Newman and Rush on Brownstone Street, but looking across to the other side of the street. The facade used during the time of the film has since been completely wiped out. Today this side of the street is the location of the Warner Bros theatre, which does have a facade that can be used for filming - although it now now way resembles the facade which used to be there.

Newman and Rush on Brownstone Street.

The Warner Bros. Theatre now stands on this site of Brownstone Street.

One of the locations in the film is a bar called Ernie's Cocktails. This too was filmed on the Warner Bros. backlot, on New York Street. This facade also has been greatly changed since the film, but you can see below where I've marked with a yellow box, where the Ernie's facade would have been located.

Warner Bros. New York Street was used as the location for Ernie's Cocktails.

The yellow box marks the portion of the facade used as Ernie's Cocktails.

Below is another shot of the Warner Bros. New York Street backlot, this time at Christmas. I love seeing the fake snow on the ground and people wearing heavy jackets. As this is really California - not Philadelphia - I bet it was 80 some degrees at the time.

Warner Bros. New York Street backlot dressed for Christmas time.

The same corner of the New York Street backlot as it appears today.

The next two comparisons show the site of Paul Newman's law office in the film which was also the New York Street backlot.

The Warner Bros. NY Street backlot was used as the exterior for Newman's law office.

The yellow box marks the location of the New York Street backlot exterior used as Newman's law office.

Looking across the street from Newman's office toward the alley.

The WB New York Street backlot. The alley can be seen to the right of the theatre marquee.

This last location is supposed to be the home of the character played by Alexis Smith. In reality, this home is the former Will Rogers Estate, located at 14253 Sunset Boulevard in the Pacific Palisades. The ranch became a State Park in 1944 and today the site includes the 31-room ranch house, a stable, corrals, riding ring, roping arena, golf course, polo field and riding and hiking trails.

Will Rogers House, 14253 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles was used as the home of Alexis Smith.

Will Rogers Ranch House. Source

In addition to airing on TCM, The Young Philadelphians is currently available for streaming on Warner Archive Instant and is available on DVD through ClassicFlix. The film, directed by Vincent Sherman, stars Paul Newman, Barbara Rush, Alexis Smith and Robert Vaughn.


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