Saturday, July 19, 2014

Life at the Marmont: The Inside Story of Hollywood's Legendary Hotel of the Stars

I first visited the Chateau Marmont, a Gothic European inspired hotel located on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, about eight years ago. A friend of mine was celebrating a birthday and her boss had rented one of the large suites on the upper floor. I had heard some of the stories about the Marmont - how Marilyn Monroe stayed at the hotel or rock stars like Led Zeppelin crashed at the place - so I was excited to experience the hotel for myself. As soon as I entered the hotel I got the feeling I was walking into a mythical place. I remember the hallways being dark and narrow, little European architectural details, seeing some high profile guests hanging out in the lobby and when I got to to the top of the hotel - the amazing view of Los Angeles that looked out from our suite. I could see for myself why so many of Hollywood's biggest stars have chosen to make the Marmont their home. 

The Chateau Marmont on the Sunset Strip.

I've always wanted to learn more about this hotel, so as part of my Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge hosted by Out of the Past - A Classic Movie Blog, I chose to read Life at the Marmont: The Inside Store of Hollywood's Legendary Hotel of the Stars - Chateau Marmont, by Raymond Sarlot and Fred E. Basten. The book is an interesting in-depth look at the hotel's history and filled with stories of the many celebrities that stayed there over the years. The book goes in chronological order, so it begins with some background on how the hotel was founded in the 1920s, in what was at the time a little strip in the middle of nowhere, halfway between Hollywood and Beverly Hills. We then learn about the different guests who have visited and how things changed at the hotel over the passing decades.

Chateau Marmont, 8221 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood.

Some of the guests that have stayed at the Marmont include director Billy Wilder, Jean Harlow, William Holden, Glenn Ford, Howard Hughes, Montgomery Clift, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty,  Boris Karloff, Judy Garland, Humphrey Bogart, Roddy McDowall and many, many others. 

When Harry Cohn got a young 21 year old William Holden and a 22 year old Glenn Ford to work at his Columbia studio under contract, he didn't want his business investments getting into trouble, at least not where anyone would find out, so he rented them a room at the Marmont. In the book Ford recounts his time at the Marmont:

"Harry really worried about Bill and me. He had put us under contract at approximately the same time, and we were constantly getting into trouble - going places where we shouldn't have gone and mixing with the wrong people. In his eyes, rather bad company. One day he sent for us and said, 'If you must get into trouble, go to the Marmont.' He made it clear that he had rented the small penthouse there just for us, to protect us. As upset and concerned as he was, he never raised his voice. But he made sure we got his point."

Throughout 1939 Ford and Holden shared the suite with actor David Niven. I like to think that maybe during my stay at the Marmont that I was in the same suite - regardless - I know many old Hollywood stars have.

Nicholas Ray, James Dean, Natalie Wood, Jim Backus and the Rebel Without a Cause cast.

Following his divorce from actress Gloria Grahame, director Nicholas Ray moved into the Chateau Marmont and lived here for a few years off and on. Ray stayed in one of the private bungalows next to the main building. He worked on many of his films from here, including his most famous film, Rebel Without a Cause. During Rebel, Ray held the early script sessions at his bungalow, inviting the cast over for readings, including James Dean, Natalie Wood, Jim Backus, and Dennis Hopper.

Ray was known to be a partier and his Sunday soirees were quite popular at the hotel. He was also a bit of a ladies man, and one of the people seduced by Ray was his young actress, Natalie Wood. Wood became infatuated with Ray, even though he was old enough to be her dad. Wood would always be the first to show up to Ray's bungalow and the last to leave. No one suspected anything at first, but one night, Dennis Hopper, who had dated Wood prior to Rebel, showed up to the bungalow without knocking. Not finding anyone on the first floor he wandered up to the second floor where he spotted the seventeen year old Wood in bed with Ray. Hopper was outraged and made things difficult during the remainder of filming Rebel

Robert Mitchum washes dishes at the Marmont in 1949.

Life at the Marmont is filled with fascinating stories about some of Hollywood's biggest stars and also music stars. I recommend the book for seasoned classic movie fans who would be familiar with all the old stars mentioned in the book or for Los Angeles history buffs.

Visit Out of the Past - A Classic Movie Blog for more summer book challenge reviews.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Big City (1937) - Film Locations

Luise Rainer and Spencer Tracy

When I really like an actor I feel the need to see all of their films. I know not all of them will be great. Some will probably be only so-so or simply bad, but I get some enjoyment from watching the smaller or maybe less appreciated films that my favorite stars appeared in. At times I'm even surprised and a movie that I go into not expecting much turns out to have some qualities I really like. That's what happened when I watched Big City (1937), starring Spencer Tracy and Luise Rainer.

Tracy plays a New York City cab driver married to an immigrant wife (Rainer). The two are madly in love but things are tough in the big city, especially for independent cab drivers trying to make a living like Tracy, who are constantly being harassed by the big unionized cab drivers. Things get out of control, escalating to an all out battle between the independents and the union cabbies. After one person dies in an explosion, Tracy's immigrant wife is threatened to be deported.

The trouble with Big City is the story is all over the place. What starts as a romantic drama evolves into a manic slapstick comedy by the end, when a brawl erupts between the independents, the union cabbies and some famous athletes. The feel of the movie is inconsistent. Nevertheless, Tracy and Rainer make this movie fun to watch. I really enjoyed seeing Tracy and Rainer on screen in the only film they made together. Some other gems include seeing cameo appearances by some famous athletes of the time and something I'm always interested in, real world film locations.

Click images to see larger.

Jack Dempsey's Restaurant as seen in Big City.

Former site of Jack Dempsey's Restaurant in New York.

Near the end of the film, Tracy barges into a dinner meeting taking place inside Jack Dempsey's Restaurant. Tracy's wife is about to be deported and he pleads with the mayor, who is speaking at the dinner to help him, that if anyone could save his wife, it would be the mayor. The restaurant was a real location,  located at 8th Avenue and West 50th Street in New York and owned by heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey, who has a cameo appearance. The place opened in 1935, just a couple years before Big City was filmed.  Above is an image of Jack Dempsey's Restaurant as it appears in the film and below that is a vintage postcard image of how the restaurant looked over the top of a Google Street View of the present day location. Below is the present day location without the postcard.

Jack Dempsey Restaurant site, 8th Ave at 50th St.

The mayor decides to help Tracy. Escorted by some of the other dinner patrons (more famous athletes including Jim Thorpe, Jim Jeffries and Maxie Rosenbloom) the group races to the docks in a few cars to stop the ship that is about to deport Rainer. We see the cars race down two more real New York streets and then suddenly, for someone looking closely, one will notice the cars are racing down the streets of Hollywood! Below are two more views of New York and then the jump to Hollywood.

The first view is of Broadway, near the Jack Dempsey Restaurant location. In this view we see the Trans-Lux Theatre, located at 1619 Broadway. This theatre, which opened in 1931, was struggling by 1937 when this film was made. What's interesting is that in 1937, Jack Dempsey and his business partner Jack Amiel purchased the Trans-Lux property and converted the site into Jack Dempsey's Broadway Bar and Cocktail Lounge.

Trans-Lux Theatre, 1619 Broadway, New York

Contemporary view of the Trans-Lux Theatre site.

The next New York view seen in the film shows us the corner of West 47th Street and Broadway in Times Square. The most prominent building that can be seen in the screenshot is the Florsheim Shoe store. It's amazing how different Times Square looks today compared to 1937.

W. 47th Street and Broadway, New York

W. 47th Street and Broadway, New York

Now we jump to the Hollywood locations. As Tracy races down the New York City streets to reach his wife before she is deported we suddenly see the cars driving down Hollywood Boulevard and also down Ivar Avenue. Some of the buildings that can be seen are the Hollywood Citizen Stationary Store, a Schwab's store, Nancy's, Delphene's, a Thrifty Drug Store, a Colombia building, the Guaranty Building and the Broadway Hollywood Building.

Looking west down Hollywood Blvd from Cosmo St.
Looking west down Hollywood Blvd from Cosmo St.

Above is the first shot of Hollywood. This view is looking west down Hollywood Boulevard from Cosmo Street. The building with the neon "Dentist" sign is part of the Julian Medical Building, a former drug store with medical offices on top.

Hollywood Blvd at Cosmo St.

Corner of Hollywood Blvd and Cosmo St.

Corner of Hollywood Blvd and Cosmo St.

Former site of Schwabs and Hollywood Citizen Stationary.

Tracy's car races past Schwabs.

Thrifty Drug Store, SW corner of Hollywood Blvd at Ivar Ave.

Former site of Thrifty Drug Store, Hollywood Blvd at Ivar Ave.

Guaranty Building 6331 Hollywood Boulevard.

Guaranty Building 6331 Hollywood Boulevard.

Looking east down Hollywood Blvd from Ivar Ave.

Looking east down Hollywood Blvd from Ivar Ave.

Above is a view looking east down Hollywood Boulevard. The "Columbia" building is now hidden behind some trees. Below you can see a closeup image of this building to see how this building looks now. In the background of the screenshot the signs from the Broadway Hollywood Building and the Taft building can be seen - both buildings are still standing at the corner of Hollywood and Vine.

The former Colombia Building 6324-32 Hollywood Blvd.

Big City (1937) is available for rent through ClassicFlix. The film was directed by Frank Borzage and also stars Charley Grapewin, Janet Beecher, Eddie Quillan, Victor Varconi, Oscar O'Shea, Helen Troy, William Demarest, John Arledge, Irving Bacon, Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams, Regis Toomey, Edgar Dearing, and Paul Harvey.

All screenshots (c) Warner Home Video. All contemporary images (c) 2013 Google.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Meet John Doe (1941) - Film Locations

Frank Capra is one of those directors where I can watch just about any one of his films and be entertained. Many of Capra's movies are heavily sentimental, wholesome message pictures which some critics have dismissively referred to as "Capra-corn." Although Capra's filmmaking style may seem a bit old-fashioned, for me personally it's one of the qualities I enjoy about Capra's films, and regardless of Capra's style, the subject matter in his films from the 1930s and 1940s, are just as relevant now as they were then. Whether it be a naive scout leader who thinks by becoming a senator and going to Washington he can help his country in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) or a presidential candidate who struggles to stick by his ideals and not sell out to special interest groups in State of the Union (1948), Capra's films touch on subjects that still strike a chord as a contemporary viewer watching the current political circus taking place.

The film Meet John Doe (1941), starring the always wonderful to watch Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, is another Capra classic portraying a "common man" fighting greed and corruption for the greater good of society. In this story, Stanwyck is a reporter who finds out that she is being laid off. For her last column she publishes a letter from a fictional "John Doe" who threatens to kill himself on Christmas Eve in response to society's inattention to people in need. When the letter is printed it causes a sensation and newspaper sales spike.  Stanwyck is kept on at the newspaper to continue her charade and to exploit the popularity of John Doe to sell more papers. After interviewing several hobos, Stanwyck discovers John Willoughby (Gary Cooper), a former baseball player in need of cash to repair an injured arm, to portray her John Doe.

With Cooper as the face of John Doe, Stanwyck continues to be John Doe's voice through her typewriter, publishing a series of letters from John Doe in the newspaper. With people all over the country stirred by John Doe's philosophy, the newspaper's publisher, D.B. Norton, decides to take things further and hires Cooper to give radio speeches which Stanwyck will write. A grassroots movement begins with John Doe supporters around the country creating John Doe clubs, with the simple philosphy of "Be a better neighbor."Intending to capitalize on John Doe's growing popularity, Norton plans to use John Doe to endorse him as a presidential candidate. Cooper himself begins to believe the John Doe philosophy, realizes he is being used and attempts to make things right with the public by exposing the entire scheme.

There is no real life city mentioned in the film, only a fictional town called "Millville" but the exterior scenes were all filmed in the Los Angeles area, including the Warner Bros. Studio backlot in Burbank. Here are a few of the Meet John Doe filming locations as they appear today.

Looking south down Vine Street just above Yucca Street.

Looking down Vine St. above Yucca St. as it appears today.

When John Doe is going to make his premier on radio, the scene opens with a shot of a guy hammering an advertisment to a pole that is on Vine Street in Hollywood. The camera gives us a view looking south down Vine Street from just above Yucca Street. We get a glimpse of the Broadway Hollywood building on the right. Just behind the bill advertising "Hear John Doe TONIGHT 9 P.M. W.B.N." is where today stands the Capital Records building, which wasn't finished until 1956, fifteen years after Meet John Doe was made.

NBC Studios, corner of Sunset Blvd. and Vine St.

Former site of NBC Studios at Sunset and Vine.

The location where Cooper gives the radio speech as John Doe is NBC Studios in Hollywood, located at the northeast corner of Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street. The art deco NBC building opened in 1938 and was the West Coast headquarters for NBC Radio Networks. In 1962 NBC moved to a new building in Burbank and in 1964 the Hollywood location was demolished. Today the site is the home to a Chase bank.

The "Millville" town square is Midwest Street at Warner Bros.

Midwest Street at Warner Bros. Studio, Burbank, Ca.

Later in the film, after Cooper realizes he is being used and decides to go back to obscurity, he is recognized in a diner in the small town of "Millville." Millville is really part of the Warner Bros. Studio backlot area known as Midwest Street. In the screenshot above the people of Millville frantically run across the town square to get a glimpse of John Doe. Midwest Street has appeared in numerous films including The Hard Way (1943), East of Eden (1955), The Music Man (1962), Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? (1970) and The Monster Squad (1987) to name a few.

Millville City Hall

The city hall building on Midwest Street.

Looking across the Millville town square.

Looking across Midwest Street.

Near the end of the film, Cooper is supposed to give a big speech as John Doe endorsing Norton for president. Instead, Cooper plans to expose the whole deceptive scheme. The big speech takes place in a stadium and the stadium that was used for filming was Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. The stadium was located on 10 acres between San Pedro Street to the west, Avalon Blvd to the east, E. 41st Place to the north, and E. 42 Place to the south. The stadium opened on September 29, 1925 and for 33 seasons was the home to the Angels and for 11 seasons it was also the home to the rival Hollywood Stars. The stadium was eventually demolished in 1969.

Wrigley Field Los Angeles as seen in Meet John Doe.

Aerial view of Wrigley Field's opening in 1925.
Image from Los Angeles Public Library.

Aerial of the site of Wrigley Field as it looks today.

In the two images above, the first yellow rectangle shows the portion of the stadium that appears in the film and in the second image the yellow rectangle shows where that portion of the stadium would be if the stadium were still standing.

In the two images just below, the first is a screenshot showing the inside of Wrigley Field as seen in the film and the second is a clearer vintage photo from 1937, during a game of Hollywood comedians against Hollywood leading men.

Inside view of Wrigley Field as seen in Meet John Doe.

1937 Comedians vs. Leading Men game.
Image from Los Angeles Public Library.

The end of the film involves Cooper contemplating jumping from City Hall on Christmas Eve. Although Los Angeles is not mentioned as the location of the story, the city hall that is used for the story is the Los Angeles City Hall as seen in the screenshot below. However, it looks like the LA City Hall was recreated in one of the Warner Bros. Studio sound stages. For one, the skyline is different and second, although possible, its not likely to be snowing in downtown Los Angeles.

City Hall as seen in Meet John Doe.

The Los Angeles City Hall.

I highly recommend this film. If you haven't yet seen this classic, ClassicFlix currently has Meet John Doe available on DVD to buy or to rent.

Images (c) Warner Bros. Entertainment, (c) 2013 Google, (c) 2013 Microsoft Corporation Pictometry Bird's Eye (c) 2012 Pictometry International Corp.


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