December 23, 2012 § Leave a comment
I moved into the Canyon just before Thanksgiving of 2005; by the time I was settled, the businesses of Beachwood Village were transformed by colored lights and decorations. As Christmas neared, many of my neighbors lit their houses as well, enhancing my nighttime view of the Hollywood Sign with twinkling lights. (Less festive was the discovery that some of these houses would stay lit well after the holidays–in some cases until March. I’ve come to think of it as a local tradition.)
Before dark on winter days, I often walk the hilly streets of Hollywoodland. Recently, I noticed a striking addition to the Canyon’s holiday decorations: a towering pine tree hung with lights and a star. Located on Pelham Place, the tree dwarfs everything around it.
As Under the Hollywood Sign approaches the end of its fourth year, I’d like to thank my ever-increasing readership. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these posts as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. Merry Christmas!
December 25, 2011 § 2 Comments
I moved to Hollywoodland six years ago, just before Thanksgiving. By the time I was settled, Christmas decorations were going up in Beachwood Village. “You picked a good time to move here,” someone said to me, and she was right: the lights and decorations are so beautiful that I look forward to them all year long.
This year there’s a new shop in the Village, My Fair Lady’s Flowers. The proprietor has a wonderful selection of flowers and vases and makes lovely arrangements, one of which is my centerpiece this Christmas. Now in addition to having a corner store–Beachwood Market–I have a corner florist.
July 13, 2011 § 7 Comments
Like a lot of other people, I moved to Beachwood for some peace–and much of the year, I get it. Birds sing, coyotes hunt, owls hoot–it’s a natural wonderland, especially at night. But not in summer. My six summers here have been noisy enough to drive me indoors during the day, while many nights have been almost sleepless, thanks to my neighbor’s 1am-6am parties.
The fact that Beachwood Village is a natural amphitheater–it was the precursor to the Hollywood Bowl–makes things exponentially worse.* Every sound is magnified. A couple of nights ago, two children and their father were calling for their dog on the street above me, but it might as well have been in my bedroom. People overhear neighbors’ bedroom intimacies, phone conversations and random comments from the Beachwood Market, whether they want to or not. The only good thing about this forced eavesdropping is that it’s often difficult to know where the noise is coming from, as sounds bounce back and forth across the Canyon. (On the other hand, the distortion makes it harder to tell the cops where to go to shut down the all-night party.)
In summer, construction-related noise makes it impossible to be outside during the day. Currently, we’re under siege because the streets are being dug up for new sewer lines. Trucks grind their way up Beachwood Drive at 7am, after which jackhammering goes on until 4:30pm, with an hour off for lunch. I work wearing Bose noise-cancelling headphones, as I did during my first and second summers here. During those years, my across-the-street neighbors built a 20-foot-high retaining wall and, the following summer, had it faced with stone that was cut, deafeningly, in front of their house. They managed to go on vacation during the worst of it, leaving their neighbors to endure weeks of ear-splitting noise.
Then there are the parties. There currently are four “party houses” in the upper Canyon–houses rented to tenants who hold all-night parties. This number doesn’t include houses, like the one around the corner from me, that are owned by people who party all night. After more than two years of sleepless Saturday nights, I finally impressed upon my neighbor that I wasn’t going to lose any more sleep over her noise–which, thanks to our topography, is funneled directly into my bedroom. The next step, I promised, would be lawyers.
Since then, her party noise has died down dramatically. Perhaps this is because of my threat, but I suspect it might have something to do with my neighbor’s loud nocturnal fights with her boyfriend. These can be heard two houses away, but at least they don’t go on all night.
Next time: High season for tourists.
June 22, 2011 § Leave a comment
Gloria Swanson is best known for her blockbuster role as the 50-year-old, over-the-hill film goddess Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard,” but her early, wide-ranging Silent film career deserves equal notice. Unlike most actresses of her era, Swanson excelled in both comedic and dramatic roles, beginning in comedies as a 17-year-old at Essenay Studio in Chicago. She soon moved to Los Angeles, where Mack Sennett turned her into a Keystone star. But Swanson wanted to be more than a comedienne: she was determined to be a romantic leading lady. In Cecil B. DeMille’s 1919 hit, “Don’t Change Your Husband,” she became one.
She was only 20 when DeMille made her a dramatic star, but she had already been married and divorced, having entered a disastrous 2-month marriage (at 17) to Wallace Beery. Beery not only raped her on their wedding night but, upon discovering she was pregnant, gave her an abortion-inducing drug. She would soon embark on the second of six brief marriages, only the last of which, undertaken in her late 70s, lasted longer than five years.
Nevertheless, it was her not-so-secret romance with Joseph P. Kennedy, circa 1927-1930, that cemented Swanson’s reputation as a femme fatale off-screen as well as on. Kennedy was not only a permanently married Catholic but a father of seven children (with two yet to come). Such was Swanson’s appeal that he rapidly became not only her paramour (she was married at the time to the poshest of her husbands, the Marquis Le Bailly de la Falaise de la Coudraye) but her film producer and business partner. Swanson and Kennedy’s most famous collaboration, “Queen Kelly,” was considered a disaster upon its release but later grew to be considered one of Swanson’s best films.
When the couple split in 1930, it was over money–Kennedy’s flagrant spending of Swanson’s, which the actress complained about throughout her life. Fortunately, Swanson was a canny investor in real estate. In addition to her magnificent Beverly Hills home–the 22-room King Gillette mansion at 904 N. Cresent Drive–she at various times owned valuable properties in London, New York and Portugal, and seems never to have owned fewer than two houses at a time.
She also had a secret home in Los Angeles: this mid-twenties Norman manor in Hollywoodland.
Although it was never her official residence, Swanson certainly spent time at the house, a fact confirmed by an elderly neighbor when the current owner bought it during the 1970s. It seems more than likely that the house was a love nest for Swanson and Kennedy, a place for them to enjoy each other’s company out of the public eye. She couldn’t have chosen a better location: even if her neighbors knew about the affair, they were unlikely to have gossipped about it–privacy having been a hallmark of Hollywoodland since its beginnings in 1923.
April 18, 2011 § 2 Comments
Albert Kothe no doubt left Hamburg for economic reasons, as jobs were in short supply in Germany’s ruined post-WWI economy. He seems to have earned his passage to America as a merchant marine, judging from a shipboard photo. How Kothe wound up in Los Angeles is unclear, but he quickly made it his home: among the artifacts found after his death was this certificate for a citizenship course, dated 1933.
His photos tell the story of a bachelor existence enlivened by female friends, letters and postcards from home, his dogs and–most of all–cars. Kothe seems especially proud of this car, judging from the number of photos in which he appears beside it.
Because he didn’t own a home, first renting the cabin at 3200 N. Beachwood Drive and later an apartment behind the Beachwood Market, Kothe’s car ownership symbolized the American Dream. In the 1940’s, Kothe earned local notoriety when, during an inebriated visit to his old workplace, his car spun out of control and knocked down the letter “H” of the Hollywoodland Sign. (The righted and repaired letter– already infamous as Peg Entwistle’s jumping-off point–somehow survived until 1978, when the old Sign was torn down and the current version built.)
Ironically, in light of his penchant for drinking and driving, Kothe went on to drive the Hollywoodland jitney, a job he apparently relished. The last incarnation of Hollywoodland’s neighborhood bus, Kothe’s woody wagon carried residents from the bus stop in Beachwood Village to their hillside homes. Service ended sometime in the 1950s, probably because most families had two cars by then.
In the early 1960s Kothe moved from his cabin to Beachwood Village, where he lived in an apartment owned by the Williams family. A neighborhood fixture, he enjoyed a certain fame, both local and national, for having changed the lightbulbs on the Hollywood Sign. He died in 1974, at the age of 81, having lived in the Sign’s shadow for more than half a century.
April 13, 2011 § 2 Comments
Albert Hendrick Kothe was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1893. After World War I, he made his way to America and settled in Los Angeles, where he found work and a new home in Hollywoodland. Like so many Canyon residents, Kothe lived out his life here, in the process becoming a neighborhood fixture, a Zelig-like figure–and something of a local legend.
Albert Kothe may or may not have helped to build the Hollywoodland Sign, but he certainly was its caretaker upon its completion in July, 1923. His job, which probably lasted until 1939, was to change the 4,000 lightbulbs that lit the Sign at night, a Sisyphusian task for which ladders were kept permanently propped against the Sign’s back. Though Kothe undoubtably spent a great many daylight hours on Mt. Lee, he didn’t actually live there. (The myth that Kothe “lived in a shack behind the first L” is so pervasive that Leo Braudy repeats it in his new book The Hollywood Sign [Yale University Press, 2011] Oops.) Although there was a shed behind the Sign, it housed lightbulbs and other equipment, while Kothe resided in a cabin at the north end of Beachwood Drive. (The cabin was probably built for the foreman of the stonemasons who built the Hollywoodland walls and stairs from 1923-25. The stonemasons lived in adjacent tents.) The cabin, which was torn down for houses 50 years ago, looked like this:
When the Hollywoodland Realty Company stopped maintaining the Sign in 1939, Kothe found work at Wolf’s Lair, a house large enough to require a full-time handyman. Kothe’s employment by Bud Wolf has satisfying parallels in literature and movies, for the two men at first glance were polar opposites: Wolf a rich, companionable bon vivant; Kothe a poor laborer and lifelong bachelor. But in truth, they were flip sides of the same coin–uncompromising, somewhat eccentric men who discovered their niche in Hollywoodland, and stayed.
Next time: Kothe’s latter years–and automotive adventures.
August 25, 2010 § Leave a comment
August 21, 2009 § 1 Comment
You see it as you drive through the Hollywoodland gates, a large Spanish Colonial house directly ahead, though the road goes to the left. The property wraps around the curve, and the house is so blindingly white and prominently sited that it’s impossible to ignore. Unlike many old houses, it looks the same as when it was built in 1923, as pictures taken during Hollywoodland’s early years attest. (A gate now hides the front steps and the current garage doors lack the originals’ honeycomb details, but that’s about it for exterior changes.)
The first house (and second building, after the Hollywoodland Realty Company) to be built in the Hollywoodland tract, it was owned by Busby Berkeley, whose name still evokes the glamour and inventiveness of the lavish musicals he choreographed and directed at Warner Brothers, Fox and MGM.
A native Angeleno and the son of actors, William Berkeley Enos (1895-1976) gave us such dance classics as “Lullaby on Broadway,” and “I Got Rhythm.” From 1933-1937 he directed and/or choreographed 14 Warner Brothers musicals, including “Gold Diggers of 1935,” “42nd Street” and “Footlight Parade.”
His success afforded him the house on Beachwood Drive where he lived with his widowed mother, to whom he was devoted, and whomever he happened to be married to at the moment. (He had between four and seven marriages, depending on the biographical source.) His matrimonial success no doubt was hindered by his work, which required auditioning thousands of young female dancers for the 150 he would ultimately choreograph in each film. His drinking probably didn’t help matters, either. In 1935, while driving drunk, Berkeley caused a crash that involved two other cars and killed three people. He was acquitted of homicide charges after three trials, largely because he was his mother’s sole source of support.
While Berkeley was one of the biggest stars in Hollywoodland, his house was–and still is–arguably the least private because of its location in Village’s commercial district. Besides the Realty Office next door, the house boasts a bus stop directly outside, and has since 1925. The top photograph shows passengers transferring from the public bus to the Hollywoodland jitney, which took them further up the Canyon to their homes.
Berkeley was long gone by the time the actor Ned Beatty bought the house in the 70’s, after “Deliverance” had made him a star. During Beatty’s years in residence, large buses ran up and down Beachwood Drive, rather than the Dash buses that make the run today. The old buses were too big to make the U-turn in front of Beatty’s house and would grind and rev their engines in the attempt. On one occasion the bus actually became stuck, creating such a racket that an infuriated Beatty came out and hurled empty liquor bottles at it.
Like Busby Berkeley, Ned Beatty eventually moved to greener and less congested pastures. Still, many people still call the place the Ned Beatty House, though others prefer the original Busby Berkeley title.
While Busby Berkeley’s name would seem to evoke a more genteel era, his life was anything but. In addition to the vehicular homicide trials and many divorces, Berkeley struggled with suicidal depression after the auto accident. A serious suicide attempt after his mother’s death in 1946 made the newpapers and landed him in a mental hospital. Nevertheless, he survived to the age of 80, long enough to experience a career revival in the 1960’s. New generations discovered his films of the 1930’s and 40’s, which began to be shown on television and later found new life on video and DVD. By the time Berkeley died in 1976 in Palm Springs, his place in Hollywood history was assured.