Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Off the Beaten Path... TCM Festival Must Sees!

The TCM Festival is almost here! For us classic film die-hards this time of year is like Christmas, but like all holidays, it can get a little overwhelming. I realize most folks coming to town spent a small fortune to take part in all the great things TCM has planned, but if you get the urge to veer off the beaten path or see some of our hidden treasures, here's a list of awesome (and for the most part, cheap) things to do if you need a breather from the throngs of people on the Blvd.

1. The Hollywood Heritage Museum
2100 N Highland Ave  Los Angeles, CA 90068
(323) 874-4005

Just a few blocks north of the blvd on Highland, you don't get a better education from anyone 
but the folks at the Heritage Museum. Inside Cecil B DeMille's first ever studio lies a fascinating collection of golden age goodies. They are even giving discounted admission with your TCM passes and tickets. 5 bucks!

2. DeLongpre Park

1350 N Cherokee Ave  Los Angeles, CA 90028(323) 644-3599

Hit Mel's Diner or Skooby's, get your food to go, and walk a few blocks south on Cherokee to
 DeLongpre Park. 
Inside sits a little known shrine to Valentino that was com
missioned by the 

city in the 30s, stolen, found, and eventually resurrected.

3. Tours, tours, tours!
There are so many great local tours, both walking and driving, that I hope if you partake in any
of them you steer clear of the corporate versions (*cough* Starline* cough*). A few of my faves: Felix in Hollywood Dearly Departed LA Conservatory
theater tours - locations vary.

4. Runyon Canyon
2000 N Fuller Ave  Los Angeles, CA 90046(323) 666-5046

Errol Flynn's tennis court, Frank Lloyd Wright ruins, star gazing, and a beautiful nature preserve

Not for the weak of heart (or weak of knees!) but a neat place to walk around if you feel like 
getting closer to nature and 90210's finest.

5. The Red Line
Seriously, don't be afraid of our local transportation. it gets you where you want to go! From the 

North Hollywood Arts District to Union Station, the Red Line is kind of it's own little tour. You 
can take it from Hollywood straight into downtown (take the Pershing Square stop) and see our 
stunning old theater district (Broadway), The old Angel's Flight railway on Hill, Union Station, 
LaBrea Tar Pits, the LA Library, and so much more. Cheap, easy, and no damn highways. :)

6. The Lot and Jim Henson Studios

The Lot is on Santa Monica and Formosa, Jim Henson studios are on LaBrea and Sunset. The 

Lot was the very first movie studio and production hub in Hollywood started by Mary Pickford 
and Douglas Fairbanks. See it while you can, the city is fighting locals trying to tear it down.
Jim Henson studios were the studios Chaplin built in the late 30s and they've really kept it up.


7. Hollywood Forever Cemetery
6000 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

(323) 469-6349

Peter Lorre, Cecil B DeMille, Valentino, Marion Davies, and on and on and on. Not to mention
it's a beautiful place. i always try to bring bread for the ducks...

8. Griffith Observatory
2800 E Observatory Ave  Los Angeles, CA 90027
(213) 473-0800

Trails, a great panoramic view of the whole city,  the closest you can get to the 

Hollywood sign without hiking,and one of the largest telescopes in the country. 
What's not to love? Oh, and it's free!


9. Grauman's Theater Court before 8am
6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, California, 90028

If you are a morning person, grab some coffee and come sit here and watch the city wake up while having
the footsteps of the stars all to yourself. You can thank me later.

10. Chili Dogs.

Pinks (Walking distance from the Blvd at 709 LaBrea), Skooby's on the Blvd, and Carney's (
8351 W Sunset Blvd ). You can't go wrong.


Also, keep your eyes peeled for our wonderful bookstores. Larry Edmunds on the Blvd deals almost specifically with classic-related

No matter where you end up, I hope everyone here has a wonderful weekend!

Friday, February 8, 2013

All Hail the Water Rats.

I have been seriously slacking on the blog front so far this year. Sometimes life gets in the way of things we do for fun, I guess. But then I came across a secret society in a Peter Lorre biography and had to investigate.

Charlie Chaplin. Peter Lorre. Peter Sellers. Danny Kaye. Laurel and Hardy. All members of an English society called the Grand Order of Water Rats.

The pin each member wears

Their motto is "Philanthropy, conviviality, and social intercourse". Formed in 1889 by music hall performers Joe Elvin and Joe Lotto, the two began with race track winnings to form a society that supported local up-and-coming artists and gave them a forum in which to perform, assisting in funding, bookings, and publicity.

Laurel Hardy and friend proudly displaying their pins

 According to past King Rat Charlie Chester, It all started with a pony named Magpie. Upon Elvin and Lotto telling of a run in they'd had where they were walking one of their race horses home in the rain where a passing bus driver had commented that it looked more like a water rat, friend Hal Pink proclaimed:

   'That's it ... that's what we've been looking for ... Water Rat ... the most unloved little creature of all ... and we'll make it respected. Don't you see', he went on, 'if you turn the word Rats backwards ... the word Star is revealed ... we'll elevate the lowest to the highest in the firmament of good fellowship and charity. A Rat is a Vole and Vole is an anagram of Love and that's what we'll be ... a Brotherhood of Love.' So, in the summer of 1889 they went to a pub in Sunbury on Thames and formed The Grand Order of Water Rats, and to this day that pub has a plaque to commemorate the event. The name of the pub itself was taken from the little pony and called - 'The Magpie'. 

There can only be 200 members at a time. Getting nominated to join is a delicate and arduous process where a person has to be voted, seconded, and agreed upon by the other Rats. They have a full government set up within the Order, and there is a secondary group of companion rats who, while not actually in show business, have been allowed to join as an outsider for their support to the group or the arts.

Where the Rats congregate today

I find it fascinating that this order has been around for so long, with such huge names, and such little attention. Maybe they are a big deal across the pond. I hope they are. I had never heard of them, but am glad to have stumbled on a neat part of entertainment history. A charity formed by entertainers for entertainers. Similar to what Pickford and the rest of the original United Artists folks set up with the Hollywood fund and Hollywood Home, but apparently not corrupted by modern greed. 

You can learn more about, or support the order, at their site here:   

                                                   2002 Photo of past and current King Rat.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Sheik of De Longpre

If you happen down De Longpre you may notice a little park just past Highland Ave. that is seemingly gated in. Just a tiny block by block patch of land with a little playground and some beautiful landscaping. But if you look closely, even just in passing, there appears to be a little shrine in the middle. And if you are like me and are curious about every hidden treasure in Hollywood, you'll find the barely-cracked front gate, squeeze through, and go closer for further inspection.

I'd seen pics online of a Valentino statue in a park somewhere in Hollywood, but every 5 blocks it seems there are tiny turn of the century gardens so pinpointing a single statue based off an internet picture is like looking for a needle in a haystack. But lo and behold, right there at the corner of DeLongpre and Cherokee, sits a monument that's been there (and not, and then back again) since the 1930's.

A campaign was started in 1926 shortly after Valentino's death by actors and members of the Hollywood community to erect a tribute to the fallen actor. Donations poured in from all over the globe, enough was raised, and Roger Burnham was commissioned to design a statue in Rudy's honor. On what would've been Valentino's 35th birthday, the statue was dedicated and fans the country over would gather here on both his birthday and death every year. It even had it's own mysterious woman who would leave flowers and wreaths every year. The neighbors weren't particularly thrilled as they felt any tribute should be made to the painter De Longpre, (it was his park, after all) but the monument stayed.

In the 50's the neighborhood hit a slump and vandals hit the monument. Some especially arduous thieves even stole the statue from it's pedestal  which the city recovered a few years later. Fearing more vandalism, the city stored the statue for the next 2 decades.

In the late 70's another artist was commissioned to create an accompanying bust of Valentino for the park, and it was then that the original was remounted in it's original resting place, and in 2010 the neighborhood got together to give the whole park a face lift, making it the little piece of serenity it is today.

While stumbling across the statue made my day, what really made the moment special was this: it was early morning and there were a handful of folks in the park, eating their breakfasts, walking dogs, feeding birds, and none of them seemed at all interested in the little art deco statue before them. Once we started making a little fuss over getting clear pictures almost everyone in the park wandered over, asking "who is this?" We told them "Rudolph Valentino, a silent film actor", not wanting to really bore them with the history lesson I could have given them, as the look on their faces told me they didn't know quite who Valentino was anyway.

But, after I'd taken a few more pictures and started to walk away, i noticed one of the people, holding their phone, reading from Rudy's wikipedia page. Everyone was standing around the guy, just listening to the life of Valentino. It made me a little warm and fuzzy inside, because, even in a small indirect way, we just inspired a group of people to learn about a great actor from a bygone era. We left with huge smiles on our faces and before getting back into the car, I turned and looked at the group, still reading up on Valentino, and thought "I had a part in that".

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Is there an accurate classic biopic? Bueller?

Lets recap right quick. 1980's made for tv (i think, i hope so, was it a theatrical release? oh, the horror) Bogie. 1965's Harlow - snooze fest. 57's Buster Keaton Story - don't get me wrong, I absolutely love Donald O'Connor. but if you're going to recap a legend, maybe make it, oh, I don't know, true. That goes for 82's Francis (Jessica Lange was amazing), 81's Mommy Dearest (Dunaway also was awesome), 92's Chaplin, 46's Jolson Story - all mostly complete BS ... the list goes on and on.

And not to say that list isn't full of decent movies and decent actors. it just seems if you're going to put the time and effort into what boils down to paying homage to a legend, you would think facts would be a little more important. How much do you really need to fabricate in a story about Hollywood in its prime to make it dramatic and interesting? The fact that "biopic" is just biography and picture squished together isn't lost on me, but it seems they always like to throw phrases like "true", "actual events" and "real life" into titles and descriptions, which annoy me when the credits roll and i rush online to fact check and find 85% of what ever I just watched was fabricated crap.

Keaton and O'Connor

I am a little disappointed that no one has really tackled a Peter Lorre bio. Drug addiction, illness, fame, defiance, affairs, the red scare, poverty, and one of the most waster talents Hollywood's ever seen? Really?  No love? I have no idea who could even play Lorre. Maybe Pete Doherty if he could act - he's got the look, accent and addiction part down. After seeing Hopkins dressed up as Hitchcock he might make a good Sidney Greenstreet,  Clooney or.. oh man this hurts to say... Ben Affleck (based on looks alone) as Bogie, and maybe Ewen Bremner from Trainspotting as Bertolt Brecht (seriously, look those two up. Dead ringer)... but I digress.



Back to movies that do exist - I was trying to think of a Hollywood biopic to write about that meets my very elitist standards of honest portrayal and entertaining to watch. In true Hollywood fashion, the truth is not out there. So then I started thinking if there was one that stood out as such a great film that maybe the truth didn't matter so much, and there are quite a few that I like, but my number one with a bullet would have to be James Cagney's portrayal of George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Cohan and Cagney

This was the first time I saw Cagney as a song and dance man. No guns?  No grapefruits? Who is this man? And as anyone does when they see their favorite tough guy in a family movie, and *gasp* a musical, I thought it was going to be a flaming pile.

First of all, they nailed it with casting. Cagney and Cohan are about the same build, similar features, almost identical delivery, and they came from similar backgrounds, both being Irish-Americans originally from New England. You would also need someone with decent acting chops to portray a personality like Cohan, and Cagney had it in spades. In every scene he looks so thrilled just to be there you can't help but be drawn in.

A clip of Cohan dancing in 1932 

Second, yes they took some liberties with the story line. But a few name changes, a little chronological editing, and some inaccuracies (Roosevelt's wheelchair, some political glossing-over, Cohan's divorce and second wife, etc) are, to me, pretty minor in comparison. A lot of folks like to point out that Cohan was born on the 3rd of July, not the 4th, but he and his family told everyone he was born on the 4th to appear "all-American". That doesn't seem like a stretch to me in this movie. Cohan was an advisor on the film and one of his original producers, Jack Boyle, helped director Michael Curtiz to make the choreography, sets, and costumes as accurate as possible. Hey, at least they were trying. More than I can say for some of the others. It was no DeMille type effort for accuracy, but what they lacked in truth they made up for in entertainment quality, in my opinion.

And lastly, history aside, it's just a damn good movie. From Cohan's Vaudeville days to the peak of his career as "the man who owns Broadway" to the loss of his family and his spotlight, the production as a whole is just stellar. Every time I watch the scene with his father (played by Walter Huston) on his death bed, my heart just hurts.Watching Cagney go from optimistic when he arrives home, to sad when he sees his father, to the hope draining from his face as it sinks in... ugh it's no wonder he got the Oscar for that one. I am usually not a fan of  war era forced (and often faked) nationalism, but with Cohan's real life war efforts and the kind of songs he wrote you can't help but get an urge to wave a flag. The supporting cast is also amazing- Eddie Foy Jr plays his father, a 17 year old Joan Leslie plays Cohan's wife, everyone did wonderful jobs. You laugh, you cry, you sing along, it's a well rounded experience. After Cohan screened the film he said "my God, what an act to follow". Well said, sir. I couldn't imagine a better portrayal by anyone else.

For tons more reviews, opinions and ideas on biographical films, check out the Shoes They Wear blogathon going on at the Cinematic Katzenjammer. !