Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Rockford Files - Film Locations - Donut Prince in Burbank

While watching the Season 2 episode of THE ROCKFORD FILES, The Girl in The Bay City Boys Club (1975), I was surprised to spot the Donut Prince, in Burbank, California. I knew the Donut Prince sign was old, but I never thought the place was serving up fresh pastries in the early 1970s when Jim Rockford (James Garner) would be driving by in his gold Pontiac Firebird Esprit. I've been making trips to Donut Prince for the last 10 years (fortunately my waistline doesn't show it), so when I caught a glimpse of the unique neon yellow sign it stood out immediately.

Click images to enlarge.

James Garner on Olive Avenue, Burbank, CA

Donut Prince sign hidden just behind the trees. Olive Ave, Burbank.

The Donut Prince is located at 1721 W. Olive Avenue, Burbank, California. Just behind the Donut Prince is a McDonald's which is also still in business. The Safeway that can be seen just before the Donut Prince was later a Von's grocery store and then a few years ago it was changed into a CVS Pharmacy.

In the comparison below we can see that on the opposite side of the street there is a liquor store and a bank. Today there are still a bank and liquor store at these locations but not the same bank and liquor store from the date of the Rockford Files screenshot.

Garner looks into his mirror while passing the Safeway on Olive Ave.

The Safeway is now a CVS Pharmacy. Olive Ave, Burbank.

The Donut Prince has been used a few times as a filming location (Larry Crowne, T.J. Hooker) and is also popular with celebrities. Pictures of stars who have dined there adorn the walls. George Lopez apparently is an especially big fan of the place. Even though the place is a donut shop, I primarily go for the hot ham and cheese croissants. 

This episode of the Rockford Files includes many other Valley locations, including the Burbank YMCA, and a North Hollywood Jack-in-the-Box and Bob's Big Boy. Check out this Rockford Files website for additional locations.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

2014 Dear Old Hollywood Holiday Gift Guide

'Tis the time of year to start making lists and shopping for holiday gifts. For the first time here on Dear Old Hollywood, I've decided to help by putting together a few items that might make a perfect gift for that fan of old Hollywood or classic movies you need to shop for, even if that person is yourself. I've left out obvious things such as movie tickets, DVD box sets or silly things like popcorn containers and tried to come up with items that were either different or would just be great gifts. Here are ten items to get you started.

1. Newsboy Caps from Hat People

Wearing one of my many hats from Hat People.

Fans of classic movies and old Hollywood tend to also be interested in retro fashions. One popular accessory seen in classic films is the newsboy cap and some of the best are made right here in the U.S. of A. by Hat People. For over 30 years, in the mountains of Southern Oregon, Hat People has been making cloth hats by hand. Over the years I've accumulated four different hats from Hat People, thanks to my wife who has given them to me as gifts for different occasions. They never disappoint. All the hats are made to your specific size. You just pick out your fabric, the style hat, and send in your measurements. My wife says she has received excellent customer service each time and that after ordering the first hat, they had my measurements on file the next time she ordered.

Classic movie fan and artist Kate Gabrielle has designed numerous "fan club" pins for fans of almost anything, including many old Hollywood celebrities. The pins are simple black and white designs that wear well on a lapel, a tote bag, shirt or anywhere else you would display a pin. This is another item I received as a gift from my wife that I was excited to open. I've got a few pins including Don Ameche, Spencer Tracy and Vincent Price. I've already received a few compliments from people while wearing them out and about.

3. Classic Books that were made into Classic Movies from Random House

One activity I've been enjoying lately has been reading books that were eventually made into popular classic movies. Random House has a line of books called "Vintage Movie Classics" that include titles like Cimarron, The Bad Seed, Alice Adams and other popular titles. You can visit their site or find them available at other places that sell books.

4. Subscription to ClassicFlix

ClassicFlix is a DVD by mail service much in the way Netflix was before going the streaming route. What's great about ClassicFlix for classic movie fans is that they only have pre-1970s titles. Many are rare or exclusive titles, including releases from the Warner Archive, Fox Cinema Archives, and TCM Vault collections. If there are rare classics you want to see, but don't necessarily want to buy, then renting them through ClassicFlix may be a great option.

5. Subscription to Warner Archive Instant

Another great service is Warner Archive Instant. Much like ClassicFlix, Warner Archive Instant specializes in classic films, especially rare and off beat classics, but this is a streaming service you can use with a Roku set top box, on your computer or an iPad.

6. Roku Set-top box and Roku TV

The New Roku TVs.

If for some reason there is someone on your list who has managed to live the last few years without a set-top box and have not been able to take advantage of streaming Netflix, Warner Archive Instant, YouTube and other services on their television, I must recommend the Roku set-top box above all others. It's easy to use, the price is fair, and the quality and channel selection is superb. Better yet, Roku has now come out with a Roku TV which basically is a flat screen TV with the built in smarts of a Roku set-top box.

7. Frame a piece of classic movie art.

Do you know the favorite movie, actor or actress of the person you are shopping for? Why not purchase them a movie still, poster or other piece of artwork and have it framed. Ebay and other vendors online have millions of classic movie memorabilia available. Etsy even has available some reprints of classic movie posters that can be framed or laminated, like the one from BLONDE CRAZY above. Find the piece then take it somewhere to be nicely framed.

8. Classic Movie Themed T-Shirts, Tote bags from Redbubble.

The site Redbubble has a lot classic movie themed designs that can be used to make t-shirts, tote bags and other items - even pillow cases! I especially like the IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE themed "George Lassos The Moon" design that is available on a tote bag and the SUNSET BLVD design below available on a t-shirt.

SUNSET BLVD. T-Shirt from Redbubble.

9. Classic Movie Music from TCM.

Turner Classic Movies has released a collection of CDs featuring music from classic movies, including two featuring stars Fred Astaire and Doris Day. They can be found directly from the TCM Shop or elsewhere online.

10. Picnic Travel Backpack and Waterproof Picnic Blanket for outdoor movie screenings.

One of my favorite activities during the summer time is attending screenings of classic movies at outdoor venues, such as Cinespia at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. If you live in an area that has outdoor movie screenings (or any outdoor events) consider a picnic basket for bringing your wine and snacks. I prefer a backpack style which makes carrying a lot easier, especially if you have your hands full already with other items to carry. Another nice item to have is a waterproof picnic blanket. These ones from Brookstone are nice because they are waterproof on the bottom to keep from getting damp and stain resistant on top to easily wipe off spilled wine.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Talking Old Hollywood: John Bengtson, Silent Filming Locations Historian

Author and Historian, John Bengtson

I'm back with another installment of Talking Old Hollywood and this time I had the chance to ask silent filming locations expert and historian John Bengtson a few questions. John has written three expertly researched books chronicling the filming locations of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. He blogs about these and other silent filming locations at his website Silent Locations. John's detective work uncovering many long gone or deeply hidden locations is impressive. I'm honored to have him share a little about his research, interest in silent films, and which of the three silent film comedian greats he would choose to spend the day with. 

How and when did you first become interested in silent films?

I grew up watching silent movies on Public Television, and seeing the Robert Youngson compilations.  The good silent comedians were so talented and clever that they immediately hooked me.

When did that interest evolve into hunting down silent film locations?

I’ve always enjoyed looking at old photographs, and how they draw you into real-world environments from the past.  But my interest in the location work began as a fluke.  When Buster Keaton’s films first became available on home video in 1995, I was surprised to notice that a chase scene from Day Dreams (1922) was clearly filmed in North Beach in San Francisco, near where I once used to live.  So I set my camera up on a tripod, took photos of the scenes off of my television set, and after getting the photos back from the drug store (this was all pre-digital!), I walked around North Beach armed with my snapshots and quickly found all five spots.  It was a very odd sensation to stand in a spot where many elements were exactly the same as when Buster had filmed there, and contemplating all of the history over the decades these buildings had silently witnessed.  I never set out to do a series of books, but what started as a simple curiosity kept expanding, and triggering amazing coincidences and lucky breaks, until it reached the point where I just gave in to it, to see where it would lead.  That process continues expanding even today.

What are your methods for finding locations and how might they have changed over time?

My first approach is to look for street signs and business signs in the background. Sometimes you get lucky and can find things this way quite easily using the old city directories. In one movie Keaton actually covered up a street sign with a paper bag, but I still figured out where it was filmed!  I also look for trolley tracks, “T” intersections, and special use buildings like churches and schools.  The ridge lines in the background are also good markers.

Apart from the city directories, I like to use vintage maps and aerial photographs.  The Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maintained large scale maps, covering just a block or two at a time, detailing the precise footprint and construction materials of nearly every building in Los Angeles.  The Baist Atlases were drawn with a broader view, showing all of the buildings within a several block radius.  The US Geological Survey’s topographic maps from the early 1900s also show streets and neighborhoods as they once looked. 

My favorite tools are low elevation oblique vintage aerial photographs, with views like you would see from a helicopter.  These photos are true time machines, placing everything in context to everything else.  What did this corner look like, what was across the street, what was nearby?  A good aerial photo provides all of the answers, and often reveals how related shots were staged adjacent to each other.  

The Internet has made everything so much easier.  I once had to travel to Los Angeles in person to study research materials, and drive around looking for clues.  Today the city directories, the maps, even the old Los Angeles Times newspapers, are all available for searching online.  Likewise, with Google Street View and Bing Bird’s Eye View, I can zoom to any spot in Los Angeles to verify matches, and to confirm whether buildings are still standing, without leaving my computer at home. 
What is the most satisfying silent film location you discovered and why?

I found a block on Bronson and Olympic appearing during a tracking shot in Keaton’s Seven Chances (1924) as Buster is chased by a hoard of angry brides across a commercial street and one-by-one past a series of bungalow homes.  Ninety years later, the commercial buildings, and five consecutive bungalows are all still standing. 

The only clue was a blurry bank sign in the background for a branch with a short name and a longer name.  Checking the city directory for short name-longer name combinations, none of the possible branch locations, such as the Pico & Alvarado branch, matched the setting.  I was confused by this for over two years until I somehow realized that the longer name “Tenth” used in the city directory could be spelled as a short name “10th” on a sign, and thus checked the setting for the Tenth and Bronson branch, which turned out to be the correct spot.  (Tenth Street was later re-named Olympic to promote Los Angeles hosting the 1932 Olympic Games.)  

I don’t know if taking two years to associate Tenth and 10th means I am clever or slow, but it had bothered me for such a long time, so when I finally figured it out, and saw in person that the buildings were all still standing, it was incredibly satisfying.  (This was all long before the instant gratification of checking on Google Street View.  I have to laugh, because back then I had to wait months for my next trip to Los Angeles before learning whether the street was still unchanged.)

Is there any location that you haven’t found yet that you continue to research?

I was stumped by one location for years until a helpful reader of my blog solved it for me!  Early in Lloyd’s Safety Last! (1923) Bill Stother, the real life Human Spider who plays Harold’s friend, climbs a four story building in order to escape a cop. The building stood facing south along an east-west trolley line, next to an alley and the “California Garage.”  Despite all of these clues I could never figure it out.  Thankfully a reader, following only hunches, was able to identify it as the former Dresden Apartments, still standing, although heavily remodeled, at 1919 W 7th Street.  You can read about his discovery here.

Have you met any interesting people or had any unusual experiences since starting this hobby?

Well, to start, I’ve been able to meet my hero, Kevin Brownlow, several times.  I also met Mrs. Eleanor Keaton, and had a fun afternoon driving her around on a tour of Buster’s filming locations.  She and Buster once lived very near Bronson and Olympic, where he had staged that tracking shot from Seven Chances, yet it never occurred to him to mention this to her.  I’m also honored to know Harold Lloyd’s grand-daughter Suzanne, and Chaplin’s biographer David Robinson.  Lastly, I have been able to meet so many wonderful authors, historians, and movie fans along the way – it’s really been a great experience.

You’ve written fabulous books on the filming locations of the three greatest silent film comedians: Keaton, Chaplin and Lloyd. If you could select one of them to spend the day with, who would it be and what would you guys do during that day?

I’d pick Keaton of the three, hands down.  Keaton always struck me as the most down to earth and least affected by fame.  It would be great just to hear him reminisce, and prompt him for stories.  Of course it would also be fun to take him on a tour, and hear what memories and associations revisiting these places would trigger.

There are many locations in these silent films that have been demolished and now only exist on film. If you could actually travel back in time what now lost location would you like to visit in person?

There are a number of amazing lost neighborhoods, including the original 1880s Chinatown, the old Venice amusement park piers, and Bunker Hill.  But if I could pick just one spot it would be Court Hill. 

The distinctive twin bore Hill Street Tunnel ran beneath Court Hill, the second of LA’s two incline railways, Court Flight, ran up and down Court Hill, and standing guard over it all was the unbelievably ornate Bradbury Mansion.  It was here, overlooking the Hill Street Tunnel, that so many high rise stunt climbing comedies such Harold Lloyd’s Never Weaken were filmed. The technique involved constructing a single story set above the tunnel overlook, and filming across the face of the set to capture the low-lying streets of LA in the background, while cutting off from view the bottom of the set resting on the ground.  The resulting illusion made it appear as if the set were many stories up in the air.  Further, Hill Street, which is relatively flat, was so-named because it originally lead straight to Court Hill, where it terminated before the tunnels were built. Today not a shred remains of the hill that gave Hill Street its name; it’s all been completely bulldozed.

Do you have a favorite film (silent, sound, or both) and what makes it so?

It’s difficult to answer.  Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd are all great, but I also enjoy Fields, the Marx Bros., Laurel & Hardy, pre-Code, noir, classics, and goofy cult films like The Big Lebowski and Napoleon Dynamite.  I especially enjoy Roman Polanski’s Chinatown.  Because of the movies, it’s difficult for me to imagine the 1920s and 30s in anything but black and white.  Whenever I try hard to image the 1930s in color, it always ends up looking like Chinatown.

What do you do when not tracking down filming locations?

Well, aside from watching old movies, I try to read lots of books, I enjoy hiking and bicycling near where I live, and I like playing the piano.

Do you have any special projects you are working on now or that are coming up?

My SilentLocations blog keeps me fairly busy.  I have ideas for some further books, but the researching and writing takes several years, like running a marathon, and so I don’t anticipate starting a new book for at least a couple of years.

If you made it reading this far, thank you so much, this was fun.  Thank you Robby.


Thanks John. You can find John's books here and visit his blog here.


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