August 6, 2009 § 9 Comments
The reason moviegoers don’t remember Humphrey Bogart as a youthful actor was that his career didn’t really begin until he was 35, when Robert E. Sherwood’s play “The Petrified Forest” made him a star on Broadway. Though Bogart reprised the role of Duke Mantee–after an intervention by Leslie Howard–in the Warner Brothers version of “The Petrified Forest” in 1936, real stardom didn’t arrive until 1941, when his starring roles in “High Sierra” and “The Maltese Falcon” made him a bona fide leading man.
Although Bogart’s long road to stardom was traveled mainly on the stage–he had made his New York debut at 22–he was under contract to two other studios before Warners signed him in 1935. The first stint, from 1930-1932, was at Fox, where he played minor parts in forgettable movies. A second contract with Columbia in 1932 yielded no better results. Bogart, whom the studios considered not handsome enough to be a romantic lead, spent his time playing gangsters. Worse yet, supporting gangsters in B-movies.
He had better luck on the stage, where he played leading roles and worked steadily for a decade. In 1932, he was cast opposite Peg Entwistle and Billie Burke in the romantic comedy, “The Mad Hopes,” which sold out its run at the Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles. He also briefly dated the 24-year-old Peg , who played his young love interest in the play. When I interviewed Peg’s brother Milt for “Under the Hollywood Sign,” he remembered meeting Bogart when he came to the Entwistle family’s home at 2428 N. Beachwood Drive. He was “a very nice person and [there was] nothing haughty about him, nothing ‘I am a star’ or anything like that.” [For more about "The Mad Hopes," and Peg Entwistle, visit www.thehollywoodsigngirl.com]
At the time of his date with Peg, Bogart was still married (at least in name) to his second wife, Mary Phillips, a stage actress with a much bigger career that kept her in New York. (Bogart had four wives, all actresses, and except for brief periods around his three divorces was a married man from 1926 until his death in 1957.) Interestingly, he was also a Beachwood neighbor of Peg’s, living less than a mile north of the Entwistles in this huge Tudor-style house.
The house was one of the first to be built after construction on the Hollywood tract began in 1923. It still stands, barely visible behind dense foliage and all but unrecognizable. Located on Ledgewood Drive, its large sloping lot reportedly has a stream running through it. Because the vantage point of the old picture would be impossible to match today–the house is completely obscured by newer houses in the foreground–here’s how the west facade looks from uphill:
Although I haven’t been able to find his dates of residence, it seems unlikely that Bogart stayed in the house beyond 1937, the year he ended his marriage to Phillips. Pictures of him at home with his third wife, Mayo “Sluggy” Methot, clearly show them living elsewhere. His final marriage, to Lauren Bacall in 1945, took him farther west, to a suburban house in Brentwood.
In spite of the brevity of his stay in Hollywoodland, everyone still calls the place the Bogart House. Though the current owner, Dean Torrance of the 60′s band Jan and Dean, bought it decades ago, his name has never replaced Bogart’s among locals. Torrance lives elsewhere now; the house is a rental and exudes a fairytale charm from behind its garden walls. If only they could talk.
July 23, 2009 § 2 Comments
Mary Astor is probably best remembered today for her roles in films like “Midnight,” “The Palm Beach Story” and “The Maltese Falcon,” but in her lifetime she was as famous for two notorious legal actions. In both cases, she suffered public embarassment but ultimately triumphed.
The first was a suit brought by her own parents for financial support, which Astor had recently ended. That Helen and Otto Langhanke should have felt entitled to any of their 29-year-old daughter’s earnings was illustrative of her role as a cash cow: she had been the family’s sole wage earner since her mid-teens. Otto Langhanke, a failure in all his jobs, had set his sights on a Hollywood career for his young daughter–then called Lucile–and seen his investment pay handsomely. At 19 Astor was earning so much money that her father was able to buy Moorcrest, an estate located at Temple Hill Drive and Helios Street in Beachwood Canyon. Her money not only paid for the enormous house but a staff–maid, gardener, chauffeur–and a Pierce-Arrow limousine.
Yet Astor herself had no control over her money–and except for a $5 a week “allowance” granted when she was 19, no money of her own. Otto, who was both physically and emotionally abusive, allowed her out of the house only to go to the studio–and even there she was accompanied and watched by her mother. Astor’s first love affair–or as much of one as she could manage under the circumstances–was with the charming 40-year-old John Barrymore, who eventually left because of the terms of her house arrest. (He married Astor’s fellow WAMPAS Baby Star Dolores Costello, whose mother kept her on a longer leash.)
Finally in 1926, when Astor was 20, she daringly escaped Moorcrest by climbing down a tree off her balcony and hoofing it to a hotel in Hollywood.
Her return was brokered by Moorcrest’s architect, Marie Russak Hotchener (see below), who had befriended the Langhankes and recently negotiated Astor’s allowance and right to work unchaperoned. “Helios” Hotchener (after whom the street outside Moorcrest is named) persuaded Otto Langhanke to let Astor go out in public on her own and have a personal checking account with a $500 balance–at a time when she was earning $2,500 a week.
Mary Astor left Moorcrest for good for good by marrying Kenneth Hawks, the director-producer brother of Howard, in 1928. Hawks, whose total lack of sexual interest in his bride was accompanied by kindness and financial generosity, insisted that Astor spend only his money for both household and personal expenses. That meant every penny of her whopping salary–up to $3,750 a week–went to her high-living parents.
The gravy train stopped running when Hawks was killed during an aerial shoot in 1930. The following year, Astor married her doctor, Franklyn Thorpe, and the couple lived frugally while her parents lived grandly in Moorcrest. It was only after giving birth to her daughter Marylyn in 1932 that Astor signed over her share of Moorcrest–Otto had made her sign a document giving her 1/3 ownership of her own house–and cut off the flow of money. Unwilling to downsize, Otto Langhanke sued. The judge dismissed the suit after Astor offered to pay her parents a $100 monthly stipend. In her 1959 memoir, My Story, she wrote: “The reporters had rather a cruel laugh at Daddy’s expense; they got him to pose on the little bridge over the pool, gazing sadly into the water, and they ran the picture with the caption: “Down to their last swimming pool.” In end, Otto put Moorcrest up for auction after refusing an $80,000 offer–and got $25,000 for it.
Astor and Thorpe divorced in 1935. Though the divorce was uncontested, Thorpe sued for custody of Marylyn the following year. Complicating matters was Astor’s diary, which included references to her extramarital affair with the playwright George S. Kaufman. After forged pages of the diary were leaked to the press, the trial became a sensation. According to Astor, “it became a standard joke at parties for some man to come in looking furtive…and say, “I’m leaving town–I’m in the diary.” Despite pressure from a consortium of studio executives to settle the case, Astor persisted and won primary custody of Marylyn. Though she expected to lose her acting career over it, her popularity among audiences actually increased after the trial. Astor entered her best professional years in 1939 with “The Maltese Falcon” and a radio show, “Hollywood Showcase,” a kind of “American Idol” for undiscovered actors.
In later decades, Astor suffered a cascade of personal trials–loser husbands, loser boyfriends, a devastating non-sexual love affair (she seems to have had absolutely no gaydar), alcoholism, financial ruin and an Everest-sized avalanch of health problems. Each time she bounced back, going back to work and learning new techniques that allowed her to transition from movies to the stage, radio and, finally, television. After finally getting sober in the 1950s, she turned to writing, publishing two best-selling memoirs and five novels.
Overcoming her horrible upbringing, Astor had good relationships with her daughter, son and grandchildren. She retired from acting in 1964 after 123 films; her last was “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte.” In 1971, she chose to live out her life at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills rather than burdening her children with her care. She died there of heart failure in 1987, at 81.