Thursday, May 31, 2012

How money ruined Venice . . . twice.

From 1911 through the 1940s Venice Ca was a prime tourist destination.  The Kinney Pier had the largest ferris wheel in the state and was a magnificent amusement park, the Venice Plunge was where early Los Angeles elite went for water polo and socializing in hot salt water pools (seen in Keaton's The Cameraman), Chaplin filmed his first short on Windward Ave, and tourists and locals alike flocked to the resort town for it's pristine water, miles of canals, perfect waves, and ideal fishing.
Chaplin - Kid Auto Races At Venice

By the end of the 1920s Los Angeles was developing into a major metropolitan area.  With yearly population booms doubling the population from people searching for oil, gold, or fame, the city limits were quickly expanding and devouring the unique neighborhoods that surrounded the original downtown area. Other amusement parks were springing up, including the original incarnation of what is now Disneyland. At the time Venice's long time mayor Abbot Kinney had passed away, leaving Venice in a political deadlock over how to run the city and if Venice should be annexed to the city of Los Angeles.

Canal and Pier, 1930s

Venice residents had believed that when Los Angeles took over they would receive the funding needed to update its amusements, resorts, and deteriorating streets and have a generally improved quality of life. As soon as Venice was taken over by the city, Los Angeles paved over most of the canals that made it so unique, attempted to close the parks (unsuccessfully until 1946, when the contracts expired) so as not to compete with it's own attractions, and pretty much laid the city to waste for 3 decades, polluting what was left of the canals drilling for oil, and allotting absolutely nothing to the upkeep of the city.  Los Angeles' greed single handedly turned one of the greatest destinations in southern California to a slum by the sea.  Out of this slum the residents created one of the most unique places on earth.

The Doors - Venice residents in the 60s

In present day Los Angeles, it seems the uber-rich find a unique part of town, gentrify it (aka make it boring, beige, and overpriced), remove and price out the people and places that made it unique to begin with, pave mom and pop shops over with Starbucks and McDonald's, get bored, and then leave it to rot as they take over another neighborhood. Echo Park, Culver City, Mar Vista, Hollywood, were all like different planets from each other. Now, they are all starting to look the same.  This is what is happening to Venice. They even shut down all the music shops and arcades because they draw "undesirables".

Still the best place to people watch, Venice is one of the most interesting places you will ever go.  Its a living breathing freak show 24/7, with a large homeless population of street performers and artists and local shops and some serious local pride,  what was once the last affordable ocean front town where folks who weren't millionaires could live has now turned into one of the priciest zip codes in town.  There is an ongoing war between the people who's families have lived there for decades - the artists, ex-hippies, writers, musicians, skaters, etc. - and the trust fund 30-somethings who have recently moved in wanting to turn it into Beverly Hills II.  Recently they've been tearing down the beautiful Victorian homes and bungalows replacing them with modern, designer homes, passing laws  making street performances illegal unless you have pricey permits, putting stipulations on selling homemade art which is these people's life blood, have turned Abbot Kinney St. into one big corporate strip mall, and are amping up police presence to harass and remove the people that made it appealing to them in the first place.

Why can't there be a happy medium?  Why does it either have to be completely ruined to keep the rich from taking over, or absurdly high end to keep the poor out?  Its getting to be where there is no room for the middle man in this city, which is a shame.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Who took these photos?

I've been teaching myself photoshop (well, the free version of it, a program called GIMP) and have come across really interesting pictures of the stars from the silent era (you can see the ones i've done so far here:  The most interesting to me have been this line of shots:

ZaSu Pitts

They are so somber and dark, and the opposite of most of the stills I've found of top stars from the silent era.  I've searched all over the web and cannot find any info on the original.  Im captivated by these pics and figured you folks would be the ones to ask!  Anyone know who shot these, where they came from, or why they are so melancholy? Any info would be greatly appreciated, or if you know of any others shot like this of other stars from that time, my curiosity is killing me!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The best 7 bucks you'll spend in Hollywood

I am on a never ending search for what's left of Old Hollywood, which thanks to heartless demolitions in the name of "progress" is few and far between.  I was reading about DeMille one day and the article kept mentioning "The Barn".  "Famous Players Barn".  "Lasky DeMille Barn".  Well, what the heck is this barn and where is it?

Not like it's hidden, it's just not very well promoted and sits out of the way from all the other Hollywood hustle and bustle.  On Highland Ave across from the Hollywood Bowl, rests one of the more fascinating historic places in all of the wood.

Its been moved twice, first from its original location on Selma and Vine, to Paramount's back lot, then finally in the 80's to it's current spot. The Lasky-Demille barn is one of the very first filming location in town.  Built in 1901, DeMille and Jesse Lasky rented this barn for 250 bucks a month to film 'Squaw Man".

That's fascinating enough in itself, but the building is occupied by the Hollywood Heritage Museum, and there are enough goodies in there to keep you entertained for a few hours and you'll be squealing like a 6 year old in delight at all the awesome, original memorabilia stuffed in this place.  Cecil's office, his first paycheck (350 grand!) his hat, ledgers, shoes, the projectors they used, tons of stuff taken from sets of silent movies, a Valentino tribute, a silent film shrine, a screening of the Squaw Man, a few different documentaries running in different corners, and a huge collection of pictures from the birth of motion pictures.

Did you know that all of the early silent films were filmed outdoors because there hadn't been a bright enough bulb invented yet?  Did you know that DeMille and Lasky sold most of their worldly possessions to obtain a budget of a little under 9 grand to make Squaw Man, and, if it had flopped, we never would've heard of them?   Also, on such a tight budget, they still took time out from filming to round up the cast and take this picture- promotion already being key before they even really knew the selling power on the public:

 (Fun fact about this pic, Although credited as DeMille on numerous sites, the man on stage is actually the other director, Oscar Apfel. DeMille is actually center with hands in pockets)

 Volunteers run this place and I got a magnificent history lesson from the guy running it.  I know it's his job to know but when you go I hope he's there because it's obviously a labor of love for him and he knows every little thing about the place.

There are all kinds of events at this place, silent film screenings, lectures, documentaries,  and its Paramount's 100 year anniversary so there are extra events scheduled for the barn this year. You can walk where DeMille once walked. Touch a camera Buster Keaton used. Browse through 1930's postcards of stars' homes, read letters from DeMille negotiating roles for Mary Pickford, and sit in Cecil's office. While on Paramount's lot, the barn was part of the set for Bonanza!,  Gunsmoke, and others.  It was a gym.  It was storage. It caught fire and survived.  It's been a kind of jack-of-all-trades, just like Chaplin or DeMille.

Here's their site for more info -

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happy Birthday Katharine Hepburn

I wrote this a while ago but wanted to repost in honor of her birthday - Happy Birthday Kate! (May 12, 1907 – June 29, 2003)

Night Hostess, a play in 3 acts, starring Gail De Hart, John L. Kearney, and Averell Harris, centered on the lounge of the "Little Casino," an exclusive gambling establishment in New York City.

The play opened at the Martin Beck Theater in NYC on Nov. 12 1928

Martin Beck Theater's Stage ( Now the Al Hirshfeld Theatre)

Just graduated from college and actually having appeared in a small Broadway role (which she was fired from the first week) in The Big Pond, Night Hostess is credited as Hepburn's Broadway debut, although she was billed as Katherine Burns. Even though it was a bit part - she played the character of "the other hostess" - this play is said to have been her motivation to seriously pursue acting.

There's actually a conspiracy theory that Katherine Burns wasn't Katharine Hepburn at all, and that she had double booked jobs in search of the best role.  She is credited with Night Hostess, Sept - Dec 1928, and also These Days, Oct - Nov 1928.  The big mystery to hardcore fans is,  how could she do both in different cities at the same time? Hepburn herself initially claimed they were 2 different people, yet later says she used the name to be on 2 contracts at once.  The world may never know.

She would be discovered on Broadway by RKO four years later in The Warriors Husband.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Happy Birthday Orson Welles

"If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story." -Orson Welles

Orson is another one of those from a bygone era who is a heavy influence on just about everyone in some form or another wether they know it or not.  As a person who works in radio Ive always been more fascinated with that side of his story, and I find his cockiness and quick wit fascinating.  he didn't take crap from anyone and everything he did was a labor of love, not for profit. He was just lucky that his passion was bankable.

Born in Wisconsin in 1915, those close to him could tell he was destined for something great from a young age. Well travelled and early introduced to theater, Orson was imitating, singing, dancing, and writing from grade school.  He was writing complete plays and treatments for his favorite Shakespeare works before he was 12.  By 20, he was organizing off-Broadway tours, was the director of the Federal Theater's negro troupe (controversial at the time), had illustrated entire series' of educational books, formed the Mercury Theater, and was already writing scripts.

 In radio from his early 20s thanks to his unique voice, it is said that he worked for various stations around the city, and, unable to make it in NYC traffic by taxi, would call ambulances to rush him between studios, after finding out there was no law against it. At 23 Welles came into Hollywood's view after an unfortunate  broadcast of HG Wells' "War of The Worlds", a now infamous broadcast that terrified half the nation, almost cost him his job, and catapulted him into Hollywood's mainstream.

Link to War of The Worlds broadcast:

The beginning of Citizen Kane is said to mimic his childhood, with his mother dying when he was nine and he being sent to Illinois to live with a family friend and attend the Todd School for Boys. His father died shortly after, when Welles was 15, and with the inheritance Welles left school and went to Europe.  At 16 he walked into a theater in Ireland, made up an elaborate story of how he was a revered Broadway star, landed and audition, and toured the next few years on the stage.

It's said that until later in life Welles never performed without some kind of prosthetic.  usually a nose or hair piece, he felt it helped him to have something between him and the audience.  Not so much shy as self conscious about his appearance, rarely would Welles ever show himself in a straight on camera shot with good lighting - it became a trait of his films to have low camera angles and sweeping crane shots.

After reading a bunch of biographies about him Welles is right up there with Chaplin in my book.  How he would work the system to get his way, took a stand against the cookie cutter format of Hollywood (over half his works were never developed due to butting heads with the moguls and not "following Hollywood's rules" - Welles was a rebel to the establishment, loyal to friends and family, and his wit can have you laughing for hours (watch his turns in Sinatra or Dean Martin's roasts, oh man).  So Happy Birthday Mr. Welles, may you continue to inspire for generations to come!