Archive (page 2 of 3)

1938: Reagan Moves to the Strip

Neighbors: From left, Mayo Methot, Humphrey Bogart's third wife; Bogart; Ronald Reagan; and  his first wife, Jane Wyman

Neighbors: From left, Mayo Methot, Humphrey Bogart's third wife; Bogart; Ronald Reagan; and his first wife, Jane Wyman

It seems counterintuitive and yet it’s true. Ronald Reagan, future 40th president of the United States, was a longtime resident of the Sunset Strip. Reagan moved to the Strip in 1938 and remained there throughout his nine-year marriage to Jane Wyman and then for five years after their divorce, until 1952 when he married Nancy Davis.

Reagan met Wyman on the set of the film “Brother Rat” in 1938, when he was a B-list actor with a promising career and she was a relative unknown. They started dating even though Wyman was very much married at the time, to Martin Futterman, a dress manufacturer, her second husband. Late that year, he moved from an apartment in Hollywood to a house at 1128 Cory Ave., which is still standing [map].

Wyman lived a few blocks west in an apartment at 1326 Londonderry View, which is also still standing [map]. Reagan soon moved into a studio apartment in the same building. Reagan and Wyman were married in January 1940. The couple soon built a home above the Strip at 9137 Cordell Drive [map]. (The house is standing but has been significantly altered.) Reagan lived there with Wyman until their divorce in 1948.

He briefly lived at the Garden of Allah Hotel before returning to live in the Londonderry View apartment, and was living there when he met Nancy Davis — the goddaughter, as it happened, of Broadway superstar, Alla Nazimova, whose estate the Garden of Allah once had been. After Ronnie and Nancy were married, on March 4, 1952, they moved west to the Palisades.

1936: Upscale Lesbian Nightclub

Jane Jones as she appeared in "Port of Lost Girls" in 1938; inset: newspaper ad for her nightclub on the Sunset Strip

Jane Jones as she appeared in “Port of Lost Girls” in 1938; inset: newspaper ad for her nightclub on the Sunset Strip

Bars catering to gay women were rare in the first half of the 20th century, but there were at least two on the Sunset Strip that were open in tandem for a while — Jane Jones’ Little Club, at 8730 Sunset Blvd. [map showing approximate site], which operated from 1936 to 1939, and Cafe Internationale, across the street at 8711 Sunset [map], which opened around 1936 and closed in 1942. (Read more about Cafe Internationale and its owner, Tess Wheeler, here.) Both clubs were shut down by the state liquor board, although for different reasons.

According to GAY LA: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians, by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons, “The eponymous Jane Jones was a big woman with a basso profundo voice who’d been a singer in movie musicals.” (See Jones’ performance acting and singing in “The Port of Missing Girls, from 1938, here.)

Jane Jones was born in Pennsylvania, made her singing debut at age five in Colorado, and moved to Los Angeles in 1916, at age 27. The next year, she married Lloyd A. MacBeth. She later joined the Orpheum Circuit and was soon a popular vaudeville act. In the 1920s, Jones left the circuit and began appearing nightly at the famous Vernon Country Club, south of Downtown Los Angeles. Jones, a large woman, appeared on the same bill with two male comic singers, advertised collectively as “the half ton of melody.” A news release from the club read, “In keeping with [club manager] Bill Paine’s theory of gaiety that entertainment should carry some ‘weight,’ Miss Jones tops the scales at 235 pounds of personality and harmony…”

After Jane Jones’s Little Club opened on the Strip in May 1936, an item in the Times noted that “Jane Jones’ new night spot is getting a big play from the film colonites.” Although there’s no online record of her divorce from Lloyd MacBeth, around this time, if not before, Jane apparently married the club’s co-owner, Raymond P. Babcock.

In September 1939, the club was raided by the sheriff’s vice squad. According to the Times, “Quietly entering the cafe with five deputies, Capt. George Contreras, head of the sheriff’s vice squad, dispersed the orchestra and 50 well-dressed guests before making the arrests. Capt. Contreras reported that liquor assertedly was being sold after legal hours.” The club’s liquor license was revoked two months later.

Jones never ventured into the nightclub business again. Throughout the 1930s and ’40s, she appeared in 12 films, according to IMDB.com, including the 1938 “Port of Missing Girls,” which can be viewed here online. Jones also continued to perform in nightclubs, including the Melody Room on the Strip and many other venues around town.

When she died in January 1962 at age 73, the Times identified her as Jane Jones Babcock and said she “sang for many years on the Orpheum and Pantages vaudeville circuits and appeared in a number of motion picture musicals”–and that she had been the proprietor of Jane Jones’ Little Club on the Sunset Strip. The obituary said she had been ill for five months and died at the home she shared with her aunt, Mrs. Sally Hadler, at 327 N. Sycamore Ave.

1935: Bruz Fletcher’s Camp Style

Bruz Fletcher

Bruz Fletcher

Bruz Fletcher was a society piano man in the 1930s who was known for lyrics that were laden with gay subtext, a style that would be known later as camp. He was bona fide society, the son of a wealthy family in Indianapolis, said to have been Boothe Tarkington’s model for “The Magnificent Ambersons.”

Bruz, popular with the sophisticated set, played a record-breaking four-year run at Club Bali, 8804 Sunset Blvd. [map]. The gig had been originally booked for just two weeks in 1935, but was so popular that it ran until early 1940. In 1938, Los Angeles Times columinst Hedda Hopper wrote that Bruz had the longest local run in nightclubs of anyone she could remember, and that was two years before it closed.

He was so closely associated with the nightspot that Club Bali was commonly referred to as “Bruz Fletcher’s.'” Waiters, wearing red sarongs, served Balinese cuisine to diners seated on coral red couches.

Hedda and her competitors regularly reported on celebrities who frequented the Hollywood nightspot. Silent era star Louise Brooks was noticed in the crowd for Bruz’ show five times in 1937 and 1938. Other names in the columns included Humprhey Bogart, David Niven, Monty Woolley, Beatrice Lillie, Laura Hope Crews, Norma Talmadge, Ronald Reagan, Howard Hughes, Gypsy Rose Lee, Margaret Hamilton, Jack Haley and Frank Morgan. Bruz was mentioned in the Los Angeles Times nearly two hundred times during his Club Bail run.

In addition to his recordings, Bruz Fletcher wrote two books and several plays. He is all but forgotten today, which is at least in part due to the fact that he committed suicide at the age of 34, in 1941. One of Bruz Fletcher’s records is included in Ernest Hemingway’s collection at his residence museum in Cuba.

1934: Cafe Trocadero Opens

Cafe Trocadero

Cafe Trocadero

La Boheme, at 8614 Sunset in Sunset Plaza, was closed when Billy Wilkerson acquired and remodeled it with what would become his trademark Hollywood style. He named the new club after the Trocadero Plaza at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It opened on Sept. 17, 1934, just nine months after Prohibition ended. Wilkerson was an inveterate gambler and provided high stakes gaming in private rooms below the main floor.

The Troc soon became the top A-list place to be seen in the city and one of the most famous night clubs in the world. Wilkerson went on to be the creative force behind two other top Sunset Strip venues, Ciro’s and Cafe La Rue. He also was also the originator of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, which he lost to fellow Sunset Strip denizen, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.

1934: The Strip’s Style Setter

Top left: Billy Wilkerson with Marilyn Monroe; bottom right: Wilkerson with Cary Grant and friend at Trocadero; left: Wilkerson in photo taken by George Hurrell

Top left: Billy Wilkerson with Marilyn Monroe; bottom right: Wilkerson with Cary Grant and friend at Trocadero; left: Wilkerson in photo taken by George Hurrell

William R. Wilkerson wore many hats. He was publisher of the Hollywood Reporter, of course, which, along with Variety, has been the go-to trade paper for the movie industry for decades. He was also a nightclub and restaurant visionary who had a genius for articulating Hollywood glamor through the decor and ambiance of his nightspots. But perhaps most of all, Billy Wilkerson was a gambler. It was the gambling, more than anything, that drove him.

Billy Wilkerson arrived in Los Angeles from New York in 1930. He immediately went into business publishing the Hollywood Reporter. Later, he opened Vendome, a lunchtime restaurant, in Hollywood near the Hollywood Reporter offices. In 1934, after Prohibition ended, he launched his first venture on the Sunset Strip, the Cafe Trocadero–named for the Trocadero Plaza near the Eiffel Tower in Paris–at 8610 Sunset Blvd., in Sunset Plaza.

The Troc soon became the top A-list place to be seen in the city and one of the most famous night clubs in the world. Wilkerson went on to be the creative force behind two other top Sunset Strip venues, Ciro’s and Cafe La Rue. He also was also the originator of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, which he lost to fellow Sunset Strip denizen, the gangster, Bugsy Siegel.

1932: Drag Star ‘Fashion Plate’

Left: George Peduzzi; right: Karyl Norman, his alter-ego

Left: George Peduzzi; right: Karyl Norman, his alter-ego

On Sept. 21, 1932, Karyl Norman (né: George Paduzzi), a cross-dressing performer who billed himself as “the Creole Fashion Plate”, opened at Club La Boheme, at 8614 Sunset Blvd., in the Sunset Plaza section of the Strip. Norman was one of the stars of what was then called “the Pansy Craze,” which referred mostly to cross-dressing–known as “drag” today — and also included singers who specialized in ribald lyrics and biting repartee — now called “camp”.

Norman’s signature act was an impersonation of Joan Crawford in the movie “Rain”–a performance given the seal of approval by Crawford herself, after having seen it accompanied by her friend, former MGM star Billy Haines, according to Billy Wilkerson’s Hollywood Reporter. Variety called Norman’s show “the smartest and most entertaining floor review seen in these parts in a long time,” and said it stood out among the proliferation of “female impersonator shows flourishing in this neck of the woods.” There were other acts on the bill, according to the Times, including “a moonkist chorus of beautiful girls.”

After performing at Club Boheme, Karyl Norman returned to vaudeville and reportedly opened his own club. In January 1934, Club La Boheme and two other nightclubs on the Strip that were popular with celebrities–the Old Colony Club, 1131 North Alta Loma Drive, and the Clover Club, 8477 Sunset Blvd.–were raided in a round-up of illegal gambling.

Club La Boheme closed, but in June the proprietor, Joe Borgia, a former singer with the Metropolitan Opera, reopened it as Club Trianon, which closed almost immediately. The space was not vacant long, however. It was acquired by Hollywood Reporter publisher Billy Wilkerson, who remodeled the building and opened it as Cafe Trocadero, which would soon become one of the most famous nightclubs in the world.

(Read about the opening of Cafe Trocadero here.)

1931: Sunset Tower Opens

 Sunset Tower Apartments

Sunset Tower Apartments

Like the Chateau Marmont, its ancient rival down the street, the Sunset Tower was originally conceived as an apartment building that catered to the Hollywood elite. The Marmont opened in 1927, the Sunset Tower opened in 1931. It advertised itself in the early days as “Hollywood’s most distinguished address.” And like the Marmont, the Sunset Tower, at 8358 Sunset Blvd. [map], is a hotel today.

During its career as an apartment building, famous residents included Marilyn Monroe, Errol Flynn, Elizabeth Taylor, Preston Sturges, Frank Sinatra, Zsa-Zsa Gabor, and others.

“I am living in a very posh establishment, the Sunset Tower,” Truman Capote wrote in a letter to a friend back east in 1947, “which, or so the local gentry tell me, is where every scandal that ever happened happened.” (If the “local gentry” told Capote this–and there is a better than even chance it’s something he made up–they were wrong. The best venue for scandals in that era was the Garden of Allah Hotel down the street.)

Like all places where celebrities gather, the Sunset Tower has its legends. For example, it is true that Bugsy Siegel, one of the most powerful mobsters in the country, was arrested there in May 1944 on a penny ante bookmaking charge.

It is also true that Howard Hughes rented the penthouse for a time, as well as about 30 other apartments, where he housed women he was seeing. Less certain is whether it was the favored address of Hollywood’s top call girls.

But here’s one that’s false. It is not true that John Wayne kept a milk cow on his balcony. Practical considerations about the hauling of hay up 10 floors and the commensurate disposal of manure aside, the Los Angeles Conservancy contacted the Wayne estate who confirmed that there is no truth to the rumor.

1929: Chateau Marmont Opens

Chateau Marmont

“If you must get into trouble,” Harry Cohn, the founder of Columbia Pictures, advised his stars, “do it at the Marmont.”

The Marmont, at 8221 Sunset Blvd. [map ], has been a famous hotel for so long that it is hard to believe that it was an apartment building when it opened in 1929. An ad promoting apartments at the Marmont said that it featured, “1 to 6 room furnished apartments including complete 24-hour service. Garage in basement. Large rooms and private balconies. Distinctively furnished and decorated. View of Mt. Baldy, Catalina Island and the lights of the city from private balconies and patios. Finest steel and concrete construction (class AA) fire and earthquake proof.”

Famous residents in Hollywood’s Golden Age included Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Carol Lombard, Montgomery Clift, and Howard Hughes.

Although the architectural style refers to French chateaux, the building took its name from its location on Marmont Lane. But where did Marmont Lane get it’s name? For reasons now obscure, Marmont Lane was named after Percy Marmont, the British silent film actor who lived in Los Angeles in the silent era.

1927: Garden of Alla

  The Garden of Allah Hotel

In 1926, Alla Nazimova spent $1.5 million (about $20 million today) to convert her estate at 8152 Sunset Blvd. [map showing approximate location] into a residential hotel catering to the movie crowd. Most of the money went into the construction of 23 one- and two-bedroom “villas” to be rented by the day, week or month.

In early January, she threw a party to launch the Garden of Alla Hotel. “There was joy afoot, caviar at hand and bubbles in the air—-for 18 hours,” a writer remembered years later in an article in the Times. “By midnight, the waiters were harmonizing with the guests and wandering troubadours played madrigals from the middle of the pool.”

In the end, however, the Garden of Alla Hotel was not profitable, and Nazimova ended up selling the estate back to its original owner, William H. Hay, who brought in professional management and continued to operate it as the “Garden of Alla.” Eventually Hay sold it to a corporation, and it was they who changed the name, finally, to the Garden of Allah Hotel, and it was under that name that the hotel became, like it’s original owner, an international sensation.

Nazimova had spotted a trend, however. Upscale apartments sprang up on the Strip. The Chateau Marmont Apartments (8221 Sunset Blvd.) and Hacienda Park Apartments (8435 Sunset Blvd.) both opened in 1927 and the Sunset Tower Apartments (8351 Sunset Blvd.) opened in 1931.

But Nazimova was first.

1923 Drugs kill Paramount Star Wallace Reid

View of the back of Wallace Reid’s home as it would appear to passengers on tour buses passing along Sunset toward Beverly Hills

Wallace Reid and his wife, the former child star Dorothy Davenport, were a power couple in their day. Wally was a bona fide all-American–a Princeton graduate–who could play action roles as well as romantic leads. His box office draw earned him the title, “King of Paramount.”

Wallace Reid

Dorothy got her start acting for D.W. Griffith and was a popular Universal player by age 17. They were both multi-talented–proficient as writers, directors and producers–and both came from multi-generational theatrical families. They met on the set of “His Only Son,” in 1912, and were married October 13, 1913.

In 1920, The Reids purchased two lots at 8327 DeLongpre Ave.[map], in Hacienda Park, as the neighborhood along the eastern section of the Strip was known originally, where they built this exotic Italianate mansion with a red tile roof, stunning views toward the ocean, and a swimming pool.

By the time the Reids had built this idyllic house, however, the seeds of Wally’s destruction had been sewn. Months earlier, he had been injured on location in Oregon for “The Valley of the Giants.” A doctor on the set administered morphine so that Wally could continue working and keep the production on schedule.

Later, back in Hollywood, the studio kept Wally supplied with drugs in order to maintain the viability of their biggest star. When that supply was cut off, he found others. At first, he hid his addiction to morphine from Dorothy, but she found out in 1921.

When he was between films, Dorothy checked Wally into a sanitarium for rehab. He apparently kicked the morphine habit in 1922, but his resistance was compromised. As his health worsened, Dorothy educated herself about drug abuse, having decided not to hush up Wally’s problems. She went public, and thereby, she found her own calling.

On January 18, 1923, Dorothy was with Wally in the sanitarium, holding him in her arms when he took his final breath. Afterwards, she went outside to the bank of waiting microphones from many nationwide radio networks. Composed and calm, she introduced herself to the radio audience in a firm, unflinching tone: “This is Mrs. Wallace Reid.”

On Jan. 29, the Los Angeles Times published a letter from Dorothy to Wally’s fans:

Through no fault of my own, through circumstances that are tragic enough, God knows, I have been placed in a position to carry the banner in the drug war. It has been flung to me, as Wally’s wife, and for his sake and for the sake of the thousands like him who are suffering from this hideous disease, I cannot–I dare not lay it down.

And she didn’t. For the rest of her life, Dorothy Davenport devoted herself to educating the public about the realities of drug addiction, and she never stopped referring to herself as Mrs. Wallace Reid.

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