July 28, 2010 § Leave a comment
The documentary that inspired this blog is finally available on DVD off my website www.underthehollywoodsign.com To those who’ve asked about it, thanks for your patience.
July 23, 2010 § Leave a comment
At some point in her incendiary silent film career, Clara Bow lived at the top of Glen Green, in a house not visible from the street. Old timers in Beachwood still refer to it as the Clara Bow House, even though it has long been the home of a well-known person who would prefer not to be named. From his description, it seems likely the house was built for a member of the Theosophical Society, or one at least acquainted with its iconography. Seances and wild parties are rumored to have taken place in the house during its early years; later, later, during the 1960’s, the house was rented to the Monkees. There used to be a salt lick for the deer who wandered through the property, and a woman who lived next door remembers petting them from her window.
But back to Clara Bow, possibly the most gifted actress in early film. Physically graceful and effortlessly comedic, she had no need for the mannerisms of silent film–exaggerated hand gestures, vamping and moony gazing. Her technique was naturalistic and modern, so much so that she could give today’s actresses reason to worry. This clip not only proves it but shows why she was called the “It” Girl: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dxo_99eaEEA&feature=related
Bow arrived in Hollywood in 1923 after beginning her movie career with rave reviews in “Down to the Sea in Ships” (1922). Named a WAMPAS Baby Star, she an overnight sensation in silent comedies. Then in 1927 came the twin releases that would seal her reputation as an actress: “Wings,” and “It.”
By the age of 22, Bow had the world at her feet–yet she was feared and rejected by her peers in Hollywood. Her impoverished, abusive upbringing proved impossible overcome; even by the louche standards of the movie industry, she was disreputable. Bow’s acting career was over by 1933, not so much because of the advent of talkies as her reputation for instability. Fortunately, her retirement had a reasonable excuse: she was newly married to Rex Bell, the cowboy actor who would later become Lt. Governor of Nevada, and starting a family.
Like most actors of the time, Bow moved house a lot. During the 20’s, she lived in Whitley Heights and Laurel Canyon; later accounts place her in Beverly Hills and West Los Angeles. Oddly, I’ve found no written confirmation of her time in Beachwood Canyon, though it seems unlikely that anyone would refer to the Clara Bow House without reason. It makes sense that she would have wanted to live in a neighborhood favored by fellow actors such as Charlie Chaplin, Pola Negri, Douglas Fairbanks and Norma Talmage. But their evident disdain also might have prompted Bow to move on.
July 16, 2010 § Leave a comment
One of the best things about Hollywoodland is how little it has changed over the years. The Village Coffee Shop not only features fusty mid-century decor but a nostalgic menu from the same era. Next door, the friendly Beachwood Market allows account holders to sign for their groceries. And on the street, neighbors greet each other at such length that often it has taken half an hour to walk my dog six blocks. The Land That Time Forgot is a very pleasant place to live.
So it came as a surprise to find graffiti on the historic Beachwood-Westshire stairs and the retaining wall on the landing halfway up. Written in yellow paint, the graffiti is subtle by LA standards. Still, it took me back to the 90’s in Hancock Park, where tagging was so prevalent that the City eventually gave up using neutral colors to paint over garage walls on Bronson between Wilshire and Sixth, instead executing murals of vines and berries. The murals did the trick, probably because they resembled graffiti.
The funny thing about graffiti is how quickly one becomes accustomed to it, once the initial shock wears off. After I discussed it with my neighbors, the matter slipped my mind entirely. Apparently none of us contacted the City about eradicating it, because 18 months later it’s still there. Recently my son pointed out the graffiti appeared the same day Westshire got yellow markings from the street department and that the ink is identical.
As if that weren’t enough, someone recently used the top of the same stairs as a toilet. I discovered the result on my way up to Westshire last Saturday. Horrified, I sidestepped it; my dog, following me, promptly pocketed the turd in her bag-like mouth and didn’t drop it until we got home. It was a disgusting experience and–in light of the fact that the neighborhood is a long, uphill walk away from Hollywood’s homeless encampments–a baffling one.
Needless to say, my dog had her mouth washed out with soap and her teeth thoroughly brushed. Once I recovered, I contacted the City about removing the graffiti on the stairs. I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to say about the tell-tale yellow ink.
Update, July 21: After receiving an e-mail from the City claiming the graffiti had been removed, I went out yesterday to check. The graffiti on the wall is still visible, though perhaps a bit more faded, while the tagging on the stair (above) is untouched. If this is someone’s idea of abatement, we’re in trouble.
July 6, 2010 § 5 Comments
The turn of the 20th century was also a turning point for Hollywood. No longer a farming community of like-minded Christians but not yet the seat of the movie industry, the village of Hollywood briefly became a garden suburb for the newly wealthy.
Among this second wave of Hollywood settlers was E. C. Hurd, whose sprawling Victorian home is pictured above. Hurd dug his fortune from the mines of Colorado and invested it in a prime Hollywood tract, on which he built a mansion and planted a lemon grove. Here we see his estate on the north side of Hollywood Blvd., with an early motor car–presumably his–to the right. Only the pepper tree in the foreground hints at agriculture; far more portentous is the Santa Monica-bound streetcar on the left. Part of the Pacific Electric Railway Company’s growing inter-urban network–soon to be the world’s largest public transportation system–the trolley car took passengers from downtown Los Angeles to the beach, though Hollywood probably was the more popular destination.
Beyond the obvious, the photograph foreshadows Hurd’s own future in business. He would soon purchase the Cahuenga Valley Railroad and extend the line to Laurel Canyon, opening it to residential development.
Perhaps the most famous Hollywood transplant of the time was Paul de Longpre, a French horticultural painter who arrived in Los Angeles with his family in 1889. After de Longpre discovered his ideal flowers growing in Hollywood, he met Daeida Wilcox, who was so anxious to attract culture that she gave him her homesite, three lots on Cahuenga just north of Prospect (later Hollywood Blvd.), for his estate.
The mansion and gardens Paul de Longpre built not only drew Hollywood society but served as a lure for new property buyers and tourists. So many visitors came to see “Le Roi des Fleurs” that the P.E. Railway added a trolley spur on Ivar Avenue to deposit them closer to the estate. Tours of the house and gardens, along with prints of his floral paintings, supported the de Longpre family until the artist’s death in 1911. After his family returned to France, the house and gardens were demolished for their valuable real estate, and de Longpre’s paintings–romantic still-lifes of roses, orchids and the like–fell permanently out of fashion. If not for De Longpre Avenue, most Hollywooders today would not recognize his name, let alone his art.
Coincidentally, 1911 was the year Los Angeles’s public transport system became the world’s largest, with 1,000 miles of track. In Hollywood, the year not only marked the end of de Longpre’s era but the beginning of another, as a new wave of residents discovered the town: movie people. More on them in future posts.
Kevin Starr, Inventing the Dream: Southern California Through the Progressive Era. Oxford University Press, 1985.
Gregory Paul Williams, The Story of Hollywood. BL Press, 2005.