Don't forget to refer to my Contents page for a more convenient reference to past articles.

For More L.A. La Land, visit my writing/art/film appreciation site on Facebook at Quoth the Maven and follow me on Twitter @ Blahlaland. :)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

HOT SPOTS in CA: Sunset & Crescent Heights

This is an odd location to pinpoint as a place of interest, not just because it is an intersection, but because the things that once made it a "happening place" are sadly no longer there. However, its history makes it more than worth mentioning, since at one point in time it was an area of intense energy and notoriety.

If I could give this corner of Hollywood a name, I would call it "Celebrity Haven," but back in the old days, it was simply called "The Corner." On the southeast side of the street sat Schwab's Pharmacy and Googies Diner. Across the street on the southwest, was the grand, the infamous, the scandalous Garden of Allah. This area was like a buffet of movie star "hookups" and sexcapades... or so the story goes.

Let's take these one at a time!

Schwab's Pharmacy: Located at 8024 Sunset Blvd, Schwab's was the go-to place for Hollywood residents looking for medicine, cigarettes, or a light meal. Oh, and stars galore! Its central location made this spot a great meeting place for industry professionals. It was even featured in a scene from Sunset Boulevard when Joe Gillis runs inside to buy Norma Desmond some cigarettes and bumps into his pals. Clearly, it wasn't just any store; stopping in was a way of life.

Inside its doors, customers grabbed a bite while the wheelers and dealers of the business sat chatting up new ingenues or closing deals on the latest pictures. Writers frequently went there as well, scribbling incessantly between sips of coffee. Marilyn Monroe was a frequent customer, F. Scott Fitzgerald had a heart attack there, and Harold Arlen said he got his idea to write the song "Over the Rainbow" while looking at the neon sign. Though it was rumored that it was here that Lana Turner was "discovered" sipping a chocolate milkshake, she was really spotted at the Top Hat malt shop across from Hollywood High drinking a coke. (You'd think that it would be impressive enough for a young girl to find stardom merely by taking a swig of her drink, but the studios, as always, decided to embellish, making her seem more youthful and innocent.)

Good ol' Schwab's closed its doors on October 22, 1983. Five years later, on October 6, 1988 it was destroyed. Laemmle's Sunset 5 Theater stands in its place, along with a Trader Joe's and a Crate and Barrel store.

Googies Cafe: "Googie" is a name that references a type of architecture specific to America, occurring most particularly in the '50s and '60s. The funky, contemporary style was coined after the construction of the Hollywood coffee shop, Googies, which seemed to exemplify perfectly the heretofore unnamed artistic trend of "up-swept roofs, large concrete domes, exposed steel beams and starburst, amoebae or boomerang shapes." Many commented that the restaurant looked almost haphazard, as if it had been thrown together from random scraps. Googies (no apostrophe) sat at 8100 Sunset Blvd. attached to the western wall of Schwab's. It was designed by architect John Lautner in 1949 and became famous for its odd, futuristic sign. For a time, Steven Hayes (real name Ivan) was the night manager of the cafe, where as an aspiring actor he rubbed elbows with many a celebrity. He wrote a two volume book, recording his encounters with, and memories of, those famous faces he knew only as friends.

On an average night, lines ran out the door as hungry youths clamored for a taste of french fries or a glimpse of their favorite stars. James Dean (above) was a constant customer, coming in with his thick glasses, which he was very insecure about. He was always picking gravel out of his hair from his latest car race. Natalie Wood was often in his company, or trying to be, and Errol Flynn popped in from time to time, (Hayes was such a good friend of Errol's that he even stayed with him at his Mulholland Drive home for awhile). Another famous racer, Steve McQueen, was a customer, as was James Garner, Marilyn Monroe (who came incognito in black wig and glasses), and Zsa Zsa Gabor, who raised quite a stink one night when she failed to get a table. 

Googies watched as the times changed and the stars faded, until finally Googies itself was living in a world absent of its former glamour and prestige. The restaurant was demolished in the '80s, adding itself to a list of landmark restaurant tragedies, such as The Brown Derby.

Garden of Allah: If you stared out the western window of Googies, you could see this establishment across the street. 8080 Sunset Boulevard used to be the location of one sprawling mansion belonging to Alla Nazimova (above), an actress famous for her roles in films like Camille opposite the sultry Rudolph Valentino. After building her home in 1919, the exotic starlet hosted many parties, which became notorious for their hedonistic and downright sinful results. Some of the rumors are certainly exaggerated, but much of the fodder was based upon the fact that Nazimoza herself was a homosexual, so her home became an alleged meeting place for the "lavender set" of Hollywood. The Spanish-style palace became a center for the drunken antics and sexual goings-on of the who's-who of Los Angeles.

The mansion was converted to an apartment village in 1927 as the era of the Silent Film, and Alla's career, came to a dwindling end. Now addressed at 8152 Sunset, an -H was added to the name, against Alla's objections, and 25 villas became available for the creme de la creme. Alla sold the property after the depression left her bankrupt, and she took up residence in one of the flats. At various times, illustrious glitterati such as Greta Garbo, Humphrey Bogart, and the Marx Brothers stayed at the new Garden, and supposedly the former antics continued. John Barrymore used to ride his bicycle between rooms so as not to waste any partying/drinking time with labored walking!

The Garden met its end in 1959. Francis X. Bushman, who was in attendance at the Hotel's opening celebration, was present at its closing. It was truly the end of an era. Today the space houses a standard, bland strip mall. The party is definitely over.

Of course, as time has passed, all of these classic establishments have disappeared, replaced by strip malls, McDonald's, and cement. I once heard that Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" was at least partially based upon the destruction of the Garden of Allah: "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot." Since that's exactly what happened to the illustrious den of sin, I don't doubt it. I guess we all have to resign ourselves to the fact that nothing lasts forever... except memories. These three structures represented film at different periods: Allah representing more fully the Silent Era, Schwab's the beginning of the Golden Era, and Googies the rebellious refuge of the wholesome '50s.

So while you can't go to Schwab's today and sip on a milkshake or go to Googies and order a 12am burger, you can still stand on the site where these landmarks once were. If you close your eyes and take yourself back 40, 50, 60 years, you may be able to imagine life as it was then. Listen to the traffic pass and slow it down-- fewer cars, a more relaxed tempo. Feel the distant electricity of the past-- young kids wandering around, hoping to catch a glimpse of Marilyn or Rudy. Breathe in a younger Hollywood, one that was far from innocent, but still deeply naive; one existing in the moment, and daring to live life unbottled, unapologetic, unfiltered. Life straight: no chaser. Bittersweet... and far too short.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I would like to take a moment to thank The Errol Flynn Blog Site for mentioning me in one of their posts. I wrote a brief article called "The Seed of Self Destruction" on my L.A. La Land Myspace blog many months ago, and it referenced Mr. Flynn. Ms. Tina Nyary posted the link to my page on the EF Blog, and a friend, Kathleen, alerted me to it. Thanks ladies for paying me the great compliment for my work!

I am always striving to uncover the truth-- if such a thing exists-- about those mysterious figures that we admire (or abhor), and I feel much rewarded in unlocking a star's false persona and finding his or her hidden humanity. Flynn was a very controversial figure in his life and remains so in his death, yet there are few that I have witnessed who maintain such a strong fan following. I refuse to believe that one who possesses the power to affect so many people in such a positive way can be all bad... Though I think it can be agreed that Errol was indeed a very naughty boy.  ;)

The Errol Flynn Blog is wonderful for its illuminating efforts in uncovering the quintessential man behind the myth and introducing a different, unapologetic, and purely motivated glimpse of Flynn. I highly encourage you to take a gander at the different articles, pictures, and facts presented about him. His underrated talent has been too long overshadowed by his reputation-- one that has been highly exaggerated and even flat-out contrived. After all these years, it seems that no one else will ever be "in like Flynn," and if you're not "into Flynn," you should be!

Here is a link to the Errol Flynn Bio I posted a year ago, for your edification and enjoyment!!!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

HISTORY LESSON: Lulu vs. Lola Lola

Some moments in the universe of celluloid are so impacting that it seems impossible for history to have been otherwise. When it comes to Filmdom, the importance of casting, the magical coming together of director and script, and the synchronicity or serendipity of different events that lead to a masterpiece make it impossible in retrospect to see a finished project any other way. Still, it is interesting to sometimes question, "What would have happened if...?" What if a different director had gotten a hold of this? What if this guy were cast instead of that guy? Would it remain a classic??? Likewise, it is equally entertaining to wonder what would have happened if a failed project had only been entrusted to a different pair of hands, though this train of thought is ventured on less often-- a dead dud is often just left thus.

An interesting twist of fate in cinematic history involved not just one woman, but two: Star of the Month Louise Brooks and German film siren Marlene Dietrich. Their futures would be indelibly shaped around their involvement with the film Pandora's Box. This film, which would come to define Louise's career, almost went to Ms. Dietrich, and the role that skyrocketed Marlene to stardom--The Blue Angel-- very nearly went to Ms. Brooks. Had the original casting gone ahead as planned, the careers of both women may have been very different, and thus a large part of cinematic history would have been altered.

Marlene craved the role of Pandora's Lulu, but director G.W. Pabst was adamantly against it. Rumor has it that she was in his office, ready to sign a contract, at the very moment that the ever mercurial Louise cabled to accept the part. Marlene was fuming, as was the rest of Germany, when they learned that an American would be playing the legendary heroine from Benjamin Franklin Wedekind's smash play. The quest for Lulu in Berlin was equivalent to the later search for Scarlett O'Hara in Hollywood. It would be a long time before the world, Louise and Marlene included, discovered the brilliance of the casting and the beauty of the finished film. 

Why did Pabst turn down Marlene, the toast of Deutschland, for the incomparable German role??? He thought she was too old (about 28 when production started, whereas Louise was 23) and too... Marlene. In her film work, Marlene was never just some girl, never the average woman. She was always a character within a character-- Dietrich in lambs clothing... Or rather man's clothing. Louise (above) was not a caricature of herself-- she was a woman comfortable in her own skin, daring without trying. She was unconsciously sexy and threatening in her lack of awareness . Marlene on the other hand, was a beautifully perfected contrivance-- hypnotic but inauthentic. She cared too much about her persona, therefore she could not have been the relaxed and effortless vixen Pabst needed for the role.

Ironically, after Pabst finished on Pandora, he was looking for his next project, which he hoped would be a film based upon the Heinrich Mann novel, Professor Unrat, starring his new leading lady Louise as the sultry Lola Lola. Instead, he lost the film rights to another director, Josef von Sternberg, who entitled the film The Blue Angel and cast his own favorite actress, Marlene Dietrich (below). In a very small world, the world of Movieland is even smaller.
*(If you haven't seen this film, do. Because this was von Sternberg's first sound film, it is an important moment in the history of cinema. But, with sound being a new phenomenon, each scene was shot twice, once in German and once in English, so it could be sold to the American market. For the love of all that is decent and holy, see the German version and not the English- one is flawless, the other clumsy. Even von Sternberg's sumptuous decor and attention to detail in the mise en scene cannot save the mumbled stutters of actors trying to speak a language not their own)!

Though Marlene certainly enjoyed this new victory, which would be groundbreaking for her career, Louise was probably completely unaware that Angel was even a prospect for her. Again, it was all meant to be, for Louise would have made a poor Lola Lola. The same things that made Marlene a lackluster candidate for the liberated, yet ultimately doomed victim Lulu, made her the perfect, ruthless heart-breaker of Von Sternberg's film. Lulu wrapped men around her finger as an afterthought or at best as an entertaining means to an end. Lola Lola is a calculating maneater-- searching and destroying purely for sport. There is a violence and immediacy to her intelligent manipulation of the opposite sex. She possesses complete control and never plays the victim.

As a result of these two destined casting decisions, the women would be forever tied to their respective directors: Louise would become the muse of G.W. Pabst, and Marlene would be a disciple of Josef von Sternberg. The careers of both women would be shaped by these men, though the end products would be very different. Marlene wanted to be molded into an icon. She craved stardom and the power brought by her false persona, which she gladly adopted and melded with. Louise, conversely, did not understand celebrity and feared this same power, which she subsequently shunned out of skepticism. As a result, Marlene's star continued to rise while Louise's burned out. Both are considered legends today, but it would take time for Louise to regain that status. Had she not starred in Pandora, she may not have reclaimed her throne at all. Marlene never let her crown leave her head for a second.

In another twist of fate, the two unwitting nemeses finally crossed paths. Not long after filming on Pandora and Angel ended, Louise was at a charity event with David and Irene Selznick. She wandered around the mock casino, eventually finding herself in an empty room. Well, almost empty. There in all her pretty, blonde glory was Marlene, who-- to Louise's utter surprise-- offered a very friendly, "Hello." There was no confrontation or clash of egos. What the two women talked about during that time, will remain a secret known only to the two of them. Doubtless, the acknowledged bisexual, Marlene, tested the waters to see just how "open" the equally mysterious and androgynous Louise was. (It turns out Marlene was a little more freewheeling, and no physical relationship was consummated. If one had, certainly both unabashed women would have talked about it).  

In the end, they both seemed to have a mutual respect for each other. They actually had a lot in common-- save for the fact that Marlene was often cited as the hardest working woman in showbiz and Louise the laziest. Marlene admired the strong and intriguing young girl who had stolen the role of a lifetime and made it her own; Louise was fascinated by the ferocious energy and sexuality that Marlene was able to put into Lola-- though she would later write an article about Marlene and how the fresh young girl of Der Blaue Engel had disappeared after Marlene had become Hollywood-ized. Louise saw Marlene's career decisions as personal suicide, but in her own eyes, Marlene was a success. She had come to America as another Garbo-like import, only to create her own eternal identity. Her fame was a choice she embraced. Louise fled hers. Both were proud women: one proud of her work, and one proud of the work no one could make her do. For one brief moment, their artistic destinies intertwined. The rest, as they say, is history.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

MENTAL MONTAGE: Dirty Pictures

It seems like every other month, scandalous pictures surface from a popular actress's past. Pictures of her "in the buff." Likewise, insinuating videos are occassionally exhumed. These are typically "art" films, B-movies, or soft-core pornographic films, in which young, naive ingenues appear, baring more than their souls, hoping to work their way to the top. Cameron Diaz has been haunted by such a history, when some years ago footage of a film that she did while scantily clad emerged. Though not pornographic, the sexual nature of the B-film, which certainly seemed innocent at the time, was not the caliber of material she wanted to be associated with once she had "made it." The infamous Joan Crawford (above) was also rumored to have appeared in an early porno. After she signed with MGM, Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling had to hunt down and burn every copy of the said film to protect LB Mayer's new investment. 

Sometimes the emergence of controversial photos are purely accidental on the part of the victim. Certain actresses may not pay their way in flesh, but rather pay the price of fame by having their privacy later violated. Fairly recently, Jennifer Aniston had to sue a certain publication when a photographer took photos of her sunbathing topless in her own backyard. Not-so-Disney's Vanessa Hudgens equally suffered the humiliation of having a nude photo of herself-- which she sent to her boyfriend, Zac Efron-- being leaked to the internet, thus becoming the talk of Teenie-Bopper Tinsel Town.

In the modern age of the world wide web and celebrity sex tapes galore, these acts don't seem to be shocking. They are more... expected. Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart enjoy a little menage a trois, and no one really blinks an eye. In fact, the more unflattering the video, the more hysterical it is to the public. Why oh why, I ask, do these celebs feel compelled to put themselves on camera when they are already on television? How much screen time does one need?!  It's partly pathetic, partly embarrassing, but mostly ridiculous. Law suits are thrown down, tempers flare, and tears are shed at the humiliation of having one's most private moments revealed for all to see. Once the cat is out of the bag, most celebrities-- minus the occasional rock star who is downright proud at the sexual publicity-- will do almost anything to erase all evidence of their sordid past (or present) to get their glossy reputation back.


Our starlet of the month, Louise Brooks (above), went through a very similar situation. When she was a young dancer in New York City, earning money in gigs with George White's Scandals or Florenz Ziegfeld's Follies, Louise did some photography modeling as well. Sometimes, the shoots were "artistic," and thus Louise was seen posing with nothing but her gumption on. Nudity was still pretty taboo in all media outlets, and naked pictures were "dirty pictures"-- early examples of pornography, distributed on the down-low before there was a Playboy Magazine to produce them. But, nakedness was no longer completely unheard of, and the modern culture started to accept the human body, at least the female body, as art. Sexuality was finding its way into the mainstream during the bustling Jazz Age as something less than sin and more than fact. Therefore, nudity was slowly encroaching on cinema, allegedly beginning with Audrey Munson in Inspiration (below),  and continuing here and there in films like The Penalty, which allowed viewers a brief glimpse of a nude model.

Louise, embracing this rebellious and daring new world, let her inhibitions hit the floor with her stockings and appeared in the buff with pride for sessions with the likes of photographer John De Mirjian.  Described as a person nowhere near bashful, this choice did not effect or embarrass her, as she always indulged in her own sensuality without shame. In the pictures taken by De Mirjian, she was draped with a sheer scarf and nothing else.  She was but 19 years old at the time of the shoot and considered her actions necessary in order to advance her dancing career, where the sexiest girls made it to center stage. After some film success, Louise found herself in the limelight, and she felt no need to return to, what she simply considered, a lower rung on the ladder.  After the release of her first major film, The American Venus, her pictures began re-emerging, and everyone wanted a copy. Louise took action and filed an injunction suit against De Mirjian to stop the pictures' distribution. He was not pleased, because he was making a mint off them.

Louise's reasons were not based on vanity or shame, unlike many of the celebrities today. She simply realized that she had crossed a path in her career and was ready to close the book on her past. She also recognized that the pictures were not being revered as the artistic accomplishments she and De Mirjian had meant them to be, but as food for a gluttonous public, more eager to enjoy the debasement of a notorious figure than to indulge in the beauty of her form. She refused to be played for a fool or looked upon as a joke, so the printing of the photos came to a screeching halt.

Recently, Natalie Portman stated in an interview that she would no longer do nudity in films for pretty much the same reasons that Louise had. Lacking any prudish outlook on nudity in film and proud of her former work, Portman simply expressed that it is no longer possible to bare one's soul and one's skin without suffering repercussions: "I just don’t want to do something that will end up as a screen grab on a porn site." In America, it seems, the repressed puritans in all of us cannot abide nakedness as casually as our European brethren. We laugh, we blush, we squirm, we sweat, we... indulge, shall I say? It is still viewed as something that is "wrong." Perhaps, if the censorship code of 1934 hadn't been enforced, the public would be more receptive to nudity and less put off by it, but all of the progress cinema was making on societal standards came to a screeching halt at that time thanks to Will Hays and Joe Breen.

Venus De Milo - "Artistic" Nudity

As it is, we continue to enjoy the tabloid fodder, the perverted stars, and their naughty, naughty ways-- struggling to find a compromise between our strict sensibilities and our sexual desires.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Kreativ Blogger Award

Well, somehow, I have managed to be nominated for another award. If I tag you, you're it!!!

The rules for this little ditty are:
1. Thank the one who gave it to you.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award.
4. Name 7 things about you that people think are interesting.
5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers.

So, "Thank you, thank you, thank you" to Flying Down to Rio! You're the best :)

  • 1. I have "photographic movie memory." I never forget a face and come out undefeated when playing "name that actor," "name that movie," etc. I sometimes scare people... including myself!
  • 2. I can play the banjo. Haha, don't know if that's interesting or hilarious?
  • 3. I double-majored in English and Classical Languages and Literatures, which means that (at one point in time) I could translate ancient Greek.
  • 4. Theda Bara : Arab Death : : Meredith Grau : Rue Grim Death! ;)
  • 5. Have been told I look like: Uma Thurman, Angela Lansbury, Kristen Bell, Ali Larter, and Meryl Streep. Tell people I look like: Samuel L. Jackson. Haha!!!
  • 6. Related to (among others): William the Conqueror, Bad King Edward of Braveheart fame, and at least 2 KY bootleggers. Wealth, power, and debauchery!!!
  • 7. Quickies--
              Makes Me Smile: My Sister
              Makes Me Cry: Silent Films
              Love: Uncontrollable Laughter
              Hate: The sound of a ringing phone!

MY 7 NOMINEES: (It was hard to widdle this one down! I read so many of you!!! But here are those I haven't paid homage to yet).

Congrats, and thanks to all for reading my work and writing your own brilliant blogs!!!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

STAR OF THE MONTH: Louise Brooks

For February, the month of hearts, let us pay tribute to one of the broken ones: Louise Brooks.

"Brooksie" is a truly confounding individual. She had the talent and charisma within her to take the world by storm, which she did, and the opportunity to luxuriate in fame and fortune, which she did not. Louise wasn't interested in the trappings of stardom, mostly because she wasn't interested in being "trapped." What she loved was freedom, liberty, and the experience of all things powerful, pleasurable, and sensual, (both mentally and physically). Growing up in a home devoid of any real emotion or nurturing, Louise learned to take care of herself and to explore life through a purely cerebral and animal way. There was no room for vulnerability or romance, and love was a word that her vocabulary failed to define. Her early sexual abuse also led to her social disenfranchisement, which left a vacancy within her-- something she couldn't quite understand, a void she could never fill. She would search in vain for an anchor but was always sent adrift in a sea of questioning and doubt.

This inner turmoil was unrecognized by the public, who ate up Louise's unparalleled, photogenic face and lightning bolt, onscreen presence like forbidden fruit. A born dancer, Louise enjoyed cinema but never wanted to be an actress. Movie stardom, it turns out, needed her more than she needed it. On a sort of whim, Louise took on the challenge of acting, probably out of curiosity but mostly for the money-- she loved to spend money on books and clothes, the only things worth having in her opinion. She would eventually be renowned for her fashion sense and especially for her "Buster Brown" haircut, the definitive flapper look, which all young girls began to copy. Her films in America were normally lackluster, noteworthy only because of her presence. After she had had enough of Paramount and the sadistic B.P. Schulberg, she journeyed to Germany and did the best work of her life with the influential G.W. Pabst. Pandora's Box and The Diary of a Lost Girl, though panned during their own time, are hailed as cinematic classics today and are some of the best silent works of art to ever come out of celluloid.

Louise was hard on her career failures, and after returning to America, she made a few more paltry films, mostly westerns, (yes, really), and returned to Kansas and the family that had formed her into a hungering curiosity. She wandered listlessly, dancing awhile, then finally found salvation in the written word back in her beloved NY. She penned many articles-- all highly praised-- on cinema, its stars, and its social implications, most of which were printed in foreign film magazines. Her "bio," Lulu in Hollywood, re-awakened the Louise Brooks fervor, and in her last years she became a sensation once again, but this time for her more personally valued intelligence and talent and not her beauty.

Louise remains a mystery, mostly because all of the seeming advantages she had within her grasp, she flippantly and even coldly turned her back on. She was always at once strong and doomed-- desperate to be loved and intensely afraid of it. She never understood her purpose or her impact on the public, and so she could not trust it. An enigma, an alluring vixen, a heartbroken child, Louise was everything and all at once. It was this sense of her intensity and energy that drew audiences to her like moths to a very, VERY hot flame. We are still drawn, searching endlessly in the beautiful faces of "Lulu," "Thymian," and "Fox Trot" for the lost secrets of Louise Brooks.