Saturday, July 27, 2013

Baroque 'N Roll at the Los Angeles Theatre

We will continue beating the drum of the resurgence of Downtown Los Angeles until we move into the Eastern Columbia Building, see thriving businesses up and down Broadway, and watch happy Angelenos wandering around and enjoying everything the area has to offer. 

I (Lara) truly believe that buildings have souls, and standing in the cool darkness of the Los Angeles Theatre at 615 Broadway recently, I could feel that it has been waiting for this comeback moment for decades.
The Los Angeles was the last (and many say the most beautiful) of all the theatres built in Downtown LA’s historic Broadway theater district between 1911 and 1931.

The theatre was designed by prolific architect S. Charles Lee (who also did the Tower Theatre just down the street and the Max Factor Building in Hollywood)) in the Baroque style, and the lobby was based on the Hall of Mirrors in France’s Palace of Versailles. Others have compared the look of the Los Angeles to that of the Fox Theatre in San Francisco, which was built in 1926.

How about that barrel-vaulted ceiling? The sweeping lobby is six stories high, and there are all kinds of flowy drapes and crystal chandeliers and columns that give it an incredibly opulent feel. In a time where they have been working on widening a section of the 405 freeway here in Los Angeles for what feels like ten years (and are nowhere near being done)…it is impressive to think that this whole theatre was built in less than six months. 

It all began when independent exhibitor H.L. Gumbiner convinced William Fox (who founded the Fox Film Corporation and the Fox West Coast Theatre chain) to let him develop a theatre on a piece of land that Fox owned. Fox agreed, and Gumbiner was the one who hired architect S. Charles Lee to create the Los Angeles. However, as the Great Depression deepened, Gumbiner ran out of money.
Enter Charlie Chaplin.
Chaplin’s City Lights was a silent film, and is now regarded as BRILLIANT. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading and do that now. Or at least watch clips on YouTube. But in the early thirties, talkies were all the rage and City Lights had gotten some…shall we say “unfavorable” reviews and he was having a hard time finding a place to premiere it. Remember that at this time, film companies owned theatres and they would open and run the movies they had made in their own theatres. 

Since Gumbiner was an independent and not tied to a studio, it was decided that the film would debut at the opening of the Los Angeles. Legend has it that Chaplin invested his own money into finishing the theatre, and in January of 1931 the film and the theatre premiere together with a huge gala. Two notable guests: Actress Gloria Swanson…and Albert Einstein! Perhaps one of them tossed a penny into this crystal fountain?

Look at the gorgeous metalwork on the lobby staircase. All of this grandeur must have distracted patrons, at least for a few hours, from the nightmare of the Depression. But reality and fantasy collided even on the theatre’s opening night; there were crowds in front of the Los Angeles to see the stars, but also a crowd across the street…waiting in a breadline.

The draperies and carpets were all custom-made for the theatre in shades of deep red, gold, and royal blue. And even though this stage looks perfect for hosting say, Phantom of the Opera, since the Los Angeles was built as a movie house there is not a lot of room backstage for props and to accommodate large live productions.

If you were super fancy, you may have enjoyed a film away from the general public in a fancy box seat.

But even the “cheap seats” are wonderfully detailed, and there are eight aisles on the main floor so that each row has no more than six seats. There is a balcony, too.

There are offices and ballrooms and lounges downstairs at the Los Angeles. Here’s a spacious ballroom that reminds us a bit of the one in The Shining (this is not where they filmed that, btw).

And right off of the ballroom is one of the loveliest bathrooms we have ever seen, with a large “cosmetics room” full of individual vanities and mirrors and (I never thought I would type this sentence) a very beautiful row of stalls. Men always talk about how women go to the restroom in groups and then stay in there gossiping, but with a powder room this grand, why would you ever want to leave? 

In a nutshell: The Los Angeles Theatre oozes over-the-top Old Hollywood glam, with a lobby that would be perfect for a proposal. It is well worth a trip to Downtown Los Angeles to attend an event and experience it for yourself.
Takeaway Tips:
  • Keep an eye out for Los Angeles Theatre tours offered by groups like the Los Angeles Conservancy and the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation.
  • Host a party, performance, or screening at the Los Angeles. You can also get married here!
  • Visit some neighborhood friends that are also located on Broadway, like the Tower Theatre and the Orpheum Theatre; Café Figaro (go for brunch on the weekend, definitely get dessert, and say hi to head server Kareem); and reVamp Vintage (Click here for our interview with owner Annamarie von Firley).
 Contact Info:
Los Angeles Theatre
615 Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 629-2939

Monday, July 15, 2013

Book Review of Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations

Book: Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations
Authors: Ava Gardner and Peter Evans
305 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (July 2, 2013)

Reviewed by Lara Scott

As a kid, I remember seeing headlines on the tabloids that my mom bought saying things like, “Garbo: Her Tragic Final Days,” or “Paralyzed Ava’s Desperate Calls To Frank!” My mom would occasionally point them out and talk about how much she loved Ava Gardner when she was a kid and how beautiful she was. 

I think that the only classic films I had seen at that point were Yankee Doodle Dandy and The Wizard of Oz, so I wasn’t familiar with either star, but all of these years later, when I love and write about Art Deco and classic films and Old Hollywood, I think about those magazine covers sometimes. What is life like for one of the world’s most beautiful women when she has reached a “certain age,” and the spotlight no longer shines on her? We get a glimpse of the answer in Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations.

In the late eighties, Ava Gardner (living in London) reached out to writer Peter Evans to ghostwrite her autobiography. Broke and in poor health, she told him, “I either write the book or sell the jewels. And I’m kind sentimental about the jewels.” In their sessions together (usually in person in the evening at Ava’s while wine was being consumed or over the phone in the wee small hours of the morning when she would randomly call Peter up), Ava spoke candidly about losing both of her parents at a young age and growing up extremely poor. She discussed coming to Hollywood with a Southern accent so thick no one could understand her, and what life was like as she tried to make a name for herself as an MGM starlet. 

And yes, the stuff that we (or maybe it’s just me?) really want to know about is in there, too, as Ava reveals intimate details about husbands (Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra) along with lover Howard Hughes (who was in her life for twenty years). Sadly, the woman who was once called the “World’s Most Beautiful Animal” never found that one true love that lasted.

I found myself just as captivated, though, learning about Ava’s struggles. She talked about witnessing the phoniness and heartlessness of Hollywood when Frank Sinatra was at a low point in his career, and she endured physical abuse at the hands of actor George C. Scott.  After a tough battle with pneumonia and then her strokes (which left her with a limp, a useless left arm, and a frozen left profile), she had to learn to walk and talk again, and accept that her career was pretty much finished at that point. Always a physically active person, she could also no longer swim or play tennis. 

But, she never lost her sense of humor, as evidenced by some of her stories and unique phrases that are peppered throughout the book, saying of Rooney that he was her “shortest husband and my biggest mistake,” and of Sinatra, “We were fighting all the time. Fighting and boozing…But he was good in the feathers.”

Ava Gardner’s life seems like it was more dramatic than any role she played on the screen. Interestingly, she pulled the plug on her autobiography (later putting out a very sanitized version of her life), and one plausible reason as to why is given in the final chapter of The Secret Conversations

I found it quite sad that Ava was so worried that people might look down on her or think badly of her for revealing the truth about her life, as reading her words and her story made me love this beautiful, courageous, and spirited woman who lived life on her own terms even more. 

Reading this book will give you an insider glimpse at what Hollywood and the movies were like in the 1940s and 1950s, and a chance to meet the real flesh-and-blood woman behind one of the most glamorous images of all time who summed up her life like this: “She made movies, she made out and she made a [expletive] mess of her life. But she never made jam.”

Sunday, July 7, 2013

5 Lessons Learned from Cruising 1950's Sunset Boulevard

Billy Wilder’s 1950 film noir classic, Sunset Boulevard, won three Academy Awards and has inspired countless viewers to wrap their heads in leopard-print scarves while perfecting lines like, “We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!”

What is it about this film that has helped it stand the test of time? Perhaps it’s William Holden’s cleft chin, or nostalgia for the early days of film. Or, maybe we all just like seeing Gloria Swanson, a true silent screen goddess making the mother of all comebacks in this film, do her Charlie Chaplin routine.

Get a primer on the film below, and then join us at Old Town Music Hall ( to see Sunset Boulevard on the big screen 7/12-7/14.

1. When a crazy former silent film star (Norma Desmond) falls for you (Joe Gillis) – try not to get shot and end up in her pool, even if you do make the most handsome corpse ever. Besides, how can you do a voice over of your own life when you’re dead? Next time you want to leave, try sneaking out the back door while she is playing bridge with friends like Buster Keaton.

2. If you are a former silent film star that has not had a hit in, oh….decades, it is important to pay attention to your budget. When hiring staff, save pennies by hiring someone like Max, who can chauffeur, be a butler and play the organ. Yes, he may have once directed you and been your husband, but—bygones!

3. If you accept the role of Norma Desmond’s male “companion”– be that and only that. If she wants you to work on her great comeback screenplay where she will play a teenager, tell her to get a secretary. And if you want to hone your writing skills, start a blog.

4. While living with a former silent film star, don’t fall in love with any sweet ingénues like Betty Schaefer. True love does not exist in film noir, and you don’t have time for it anyway because you are busy attending funerals for monkeys and driving through the hills with Norma and Max.

5. Even though you are losing your grip on reality, one must always remember their adoring public and make an entrance like the queen of the screen you once were. Assemble the police, the press, and Cecil B. DeMille, and descend the stairs of your mansion to deliver one of the most famous lines in history: “All right, Mr. DeMille. I’m ready for my close-up.”

Authors Tracey LaMonica and Lara Scott are on the advisory committee for Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo, CA, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit dedicated to preserving classic films and music.