Remembering Anita Gordon
October 27, 2010 § 1 Comment
I met Anita Gordon soon after I moved to Beachwood Canyon in late 2005, on the street outside my house. Like me, she was walking her dog, so we spoke about dogs and the neighborhood, whose history she knew in great detail. More conversations followed, and we quickly became the sort of neighbors who would see each other frequently, but always by chance. Invitations to see my house were refused because our dogs complicated matters, but Anita was always available to chat and answer questions. It was she who first told me the Canyon’s name–so often misspelled “Beechwood”–came from its developer, Albert Beach, and that the Bronson Caves were actually tunnels excavated in the old Union Rock quarry so that trolleys could transport the granite out of the Canyon. Much of the stone traveled only as far as Hollywoodland, where it was used to build the Canyon’s massive retaining walls and staircases as well as the chimneys, garden walls and terraces of the new development’s houses. Anita also surmised that the Castillo del Lago-Wolf’s Lair trail was built as a continuation of Mulholland Highway, as evidenced by its paved portions, and then abandoned.
Naturally, Anita was the first person I asked to be an interviewee for “Under the Hollywood Sign.” Because she immediately agreed to participate, I gave her a choice of interview locations, and Anita chose the Bronson Caves. On a beautiful early November day, we trooped up into the remains of the quarry for a long chat about the Caves’ history, the Hollywood Sign, the significance of holly (both native and English) and, of course, the trails. A cardiac intensive care nurse at St. John’s, Anita overcame the stresses of her job by hiking in Bronson Canyon with her dog, Sadie. She particularly loved the quiet of the Caves, which she called “my cathedral.”
After several months of shooting, I put an early preview of the documentary on YouTube that prominently featured Anita’s interview. She seemed pleased when I told her, but not particularly eager to see it. Because Anita didn’t use a computer, I offered to show it to her; still, she demurred. Meanwhile, I kept going on the documentary, eventually amassing more than 40 hours of footage. I made a short black-and-white re-enactment of Peg Entwistle’s last hour, which I turned into a short silent film and put on YouTube. I interviewed 34 others and did a helicopter shot of the Sign and the surrounding area. And I kept writing and researching, until the little neighborhood documentary I’d set out to make grew into a 2 1/2-year project, on which I worked seven days a week.
Whether Anita ever saw any of it, I’m not sure. Though I’m told she was proud of her interview, watching it obviously was beside the point. Anita never saw the finished documentary, either: she died unexpectedly in October of 2008, less than three months before I screened the first cut for neighbors, crew, family and friends. There was a memorial service in the Village and another on Larchmont, where her various circles–Beachwood, St. John’s and family–came together for the first–and last–time.
Anita was much mourned; she still is. Two years later, I regularly have to remind myself there’s no chance I’ll run into her outside my front gate, and that we won’t talk about Beachwood, or anything else, ever again.