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The Powder Room

The dish on classic Hollywood.

The First News Junkies

News-View Theatre 1944

Hollywood trendsetters have influenced every part of American life…and many of its residents did care about what was happening outside the studio walls.  Movies influenced fashion, social trends, and music, but they were also where people went to for headlines that had nothing do do with entertainment.

In the days before 24 hour news channels, Hollywood Boulevard was the home of the first-ever theatre that exclusively played newsreels.  Here, you could “spend a worthwhile hour” catching up on current events (and according to the photo above, have an Orange Julius…note that the theatre didn’t have a concession stand until 1968).

Before the News View opened in the late 1930s, you could get a bit of news from the short reels that played before the latest film.  Still, the News View concept was a risk.  But  it paid off in spades, with local stars like Barbara Stanwyck frequenting the theatre to keep up with what was happening in the world.

The advent of television brought news as a visual medium into the living rooms of many Americans, so the News View eventually went back to showing movies.  It was most recently known as the Ritz theatre, and is currently being renovated into Hollywood’s first Hologram venue…another innovative use for this historic Hollywood building.

Scandal-versary: Lana Turner & Johnny Stompanato

Good Friday, April 4, 1958

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Lana Turner could play a mean bad girl on-screen, but she didn’t need MGM’s writers to create a reality that was just as riveting.

Known for her tumultuous love affairs, real and rumored, Lana gave MGM’s publicity department hell while keeping her name in the papers and her box office appeal high…but she was one of the stars MGM cut loose during the studio system’s decline.  So when she found out her new love interest, John Steele, was really a gangster named Johnny Stompanato, there was no Eddie Mannix around to fix things for her.

Lana had been enticed into an exciting romance with Stompanato, and even after she found out his true identity, she had trouble leaving him.  But she had a fourteen-year-old daughter, Cheryl, and as the relationship between Turner and her thug became increasingly violent, she came to her senses.  She tried to leave Johnny multiple times, but he always muscled his way back into her life.  From threatening to ruin her career by cutting up her face to stalking her on a vacation to Acapulco, Johnny Stompanato was determined to hang onto his movie star lover.

Lana felt like a prisoner.  Turner had been under MGM’s protective wing since the age of sixteen, and she was not equipped to handle this kind of problem alone.  At this point in her life, Lana had also suffered from multiple high-profile love affairs gone wrong, and she had an irrational fear of creating yet another scandal in the press.

Lana leased a home in Beverly Hills in the spring of 1958, and she did summon the courage to tell Johnny Stompanato he was not welcome there when he showed up on move-in day.  But Stompanato wasn’t used to hearing “No,” and he remained at the house, growing increasingly agitated at Lana’s rejection.

Cheryl had witnessed part of the argument, and was in her room trying to shut out the noise when she heard Johnny’s shouting chilling threats against her mother that she could no longer ignore.  Cheryl quietly slipped down to the kitchen and grabbed a knife from one of the moving boxes.  Intending to scare Stompanato, she went up to her mother’s room and opened the door.

The story goes like this: The scene that greeted her eyes was terrifying.  Johnny’s arm was raised to strike a cowering Lana, but at the sound of the opened door, he turned…and stepped forward straight into Cheryl’s knife.  Mother and daughter froze, and Stompanato stumbled away from Cheryl and collapsed on the floor, gasping his last words, “My God, Cheryl, what have you done?”

The first phone call was not to the police but to attorney to the stars, Jerry Giesler.  Cheryl ultimately served time as a minor after the killing being ruled as justifiable homicide.

Theories abound to this day that Cheryl took the rap for her mother, although she’s confessed to the killing numerous times, including her own autobiography and a televised interview on 48 hours.  With the only two eye witnesses agreeing on their story, the full details will likely never be known (if indeed they are different than the story given by Lana and Cheryl).  The facts that remain are this:  Johnny Stompanato is still dead…and Turner still retains her place in Hollywood’s pantheon of ultimate glamour girls with a dark side.

 

Silent Film Vinspiration: Hedvig in “The Wild Duck”

 

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Every actress has her dream stage role shortlist…usually it’s something like this:  Juliet – Romeo & Juliet, Maggie – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Lady MacBeth – MacBeth, Christine – Phantom of the Opera, Abigail – The Crucible, and so on…

The great actresses of Classic Hollywood had their “vinspired” roles too…and these stage roles were arguably even more important to actresses back in the day, as film work was much less prestigious than stage credentials.  Sure, they had Shakespeare, but without Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Andrew Lloyd Weber, and the rest of our distinguished playwrights around, what roles did these ladies have to lust after?

Hedvig.  From Ibsen’s The Wild Duck.

***SPOILER ALERT***

Hedvig was everything an actress longing to prove she was legit could wish for…a daughter with serious daddy issues who ultimately deals with her rejection by shooting herself and becoming the catalyst for the dramatic climax of the show.

EVERYONE wanted to play Hedvig.  Exotic silent film star (and later marrying into Princess and Countess titles) Pola Negri cited Hedvig as “a girl I could completely understand” in her memoirs, and played the role at least twice before graduating to the silver screen.

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Peg Entwistle was another Hedvig fan.  Miss Entwistle is remembered today as the starlet that leapt to her death off the “H” of the Hollywood (then Hollywoodland) sign.  But before her untimely death, Peg Entwistle was a big name on Broadway as well as across the pond in England.

Peg as Hedvig
Peg as Hedvig in “The Wild Duck”

Bette Davis, the grand dame herself, caught a performance of The Wild Duck starring Entwistle, and declared that Peg’s performance is what inspired her to become an actress.  Miss Davis usually got what she wanted, and she wanted to play Hedvig.  She did, very early in her career, and it was definitely a performance that got her noticed.

Bette Davis

So although things didn’t turn out so great for Hevig, she does have the distinction of being the “vinspiration” for the careers of some of the world’s most talented actresses.

 

The Los Feliz Murder Mansion

I somehow stumbled across some posts on this place, and can’t believe I didn’t know about it before.  I’ve been exploring around this abandoned mansion with a story as far-fetched as a Halloween movie plot for a few years, but never found it on my own.  Last week, armed with the address, I set out for an early morning visit.  (The night visit option seemed a bit too…EVERYTHING).

Los Feliz Murder Mansion
Los Feliz Murder Mansion

The facts of the story are pretty consistent in everything I read…a seemingly harmless husband and father of three goes crazy one December evening in 1959 and kills his wife with a ball peen hammer and then goes after his oldest daughter.  She manages to escape, and when the two youngest children awaken, frightened by all the commotion, father tells them they are having a nightmare and to go back to bed.  Then he drank a lethal dose of poison or acid, depending on which version of the story you read, and died…there are some very detailed accounts of the story you can read, I’ll link to them at the end of this post.

Los Feliz Murder Mansion Entrance

The children were apparently sent to live with relatives, and the house was purchased at auction by Julian and Emily Enriquez (imagine attending THAT real estate auction).  The couple willed it to their son and current owner, Rudy.  None of the Enriquez family have ever moved in or made any changes to the house, which to me, is the creepiest part of this story.

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Many of the ground level doors and windows have been boarded up now, but the front windows to the living room are still completely exposed (as are you, standing at the top of the hill in the front yard, if you try to sneak a peek through them).

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The murders are disturbing enough, but the Enriquez family actions are what really make this an infamous story…what logical reason could someone have for holding onto over 5000 square feet of prime real estate in Los Angeles, and leaving the scene of a horrific crime completely untouched?

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The story is that the Enriquez family used the place for storage.  That’s a pretty expensive and fancy storage facility, but not very organized.  I’m really curious to know if this is their vintage fat burning/shaker machine:

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Back to our amateur investigation…this was the only evidence I could find of any alleged Christmas-tree-and-unwrapped-presents situation, but it was enough to make this ghastly story a little too real for me:

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Most of these murder/haunting stories are pretty exaggerated, but this is an interesting case in that almost everything out there about it is consistent.

It’s rumored that Rudy Enriquez has been approached by potential buyers over the years but has refused to sell, although these real estate agents appear to have held out hope as late as 2002:

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Read more details about the Los Feliz Murder Mansion here:

Absurd LA

LA Times

At home with the Stars of TCM

This month, Turner Classic Movies is honoring one star per day with a 24-hour marathon of their work….see the schedule here.

I’ll be tracking down their former homes, Walk of Fame stars, hand and feet prints at the Chinese Theatre forecourt, and anything else you’d like to see that I can pull off!

Who would you most like to see?  And any address tips are most welcome…those can be tricky!  Stay tuned, and let me know your favorites in the comments below.  I’ll do my best to find them!

Strategic Hollywood Marriages: Gene Tierney and Oleg Cassini

Always marry for love, but considering money, security…or if you’re an actress, a guaranteed gorgeous on-screen wardrobe certainly helps!

Gene Tierney
Gene Tierney

Hollywood leading lady Gene Tierney and famed designer Oleg Cassini married in 1941, against the wishes of her parents.  Certainly, if she were a gold digger or marrying for social position, she would have taken Howard Hughes up on his proposal.  But a husband whose job is to ensure his wife looks amazing on-screen would certainly be a career asset!

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The marriage didn’t last, but their film collaborations certainly did.  For Hollywood, a beautiful and talented star and equally talented costume designer is truly a match made in heaven.

Raymond Chandler is Missing

This video says it all:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=WkRWMxyvpBk

Help us get Raymond Chandler his star on the Walk of Fame!

Donate here.

Hollywood Sign Etiquette

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The Hollywood Sign is a pretty cool thing to see…a definite “must-do” on almost every tourist’s list.  But like the city the sign represents, there is no clear cut path to your goal.   Here are some really great tips on seeing the Hollywood Sign and even getting a great photo without adding unnecessary drama to your vacation:

1. If you want to blaze your own trail, get a hiking map.  You’ll have a great experience without the risk of getting lost.  There are snakes, coyotes, and very steep cliffs on the trails…be smart! There are some great hiking guides here that will get you there safely.  Don’t forget water and SPF!IMG_9935

2. Sunset Ranch Hollywood offers a variety of tours, where you can see the sign up close and personal on horseback…and the best part is that you don’t have to be an experienced rider.  The guides are excellent and the horses are well-trained, making this a unique and fun way to visit the sign.

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3.  There are some great viewing platforms available if hiking or horseback isn’t your style.  You can take a shuttle up through Griffith Park for a great view and photo-op.  The Hollywood and Highland Center also has a great viewing platform just steps away from other great attractions you’ll want to see, like the Walk of Fame and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

Whatever adventure you choose, be respectful of others around you.  People live the in neighborhoods close to the sign, so keep in mind how you would feel if you were in your own neighborhood and behave accordingly.  Don’t stand in the street to get a photo, block a driveway, talk loudly, litter, or run through residential streets (or yards) looking for a shortcut to the sign.

And don’t ignore this:

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The sign has security worthy of it’s celebrity!  Cameras, motion sensors, helicopter patrol, etc….and I’m not kidding.

You’ll see the sign a lot during your stay…the letters are 45 feet tall and it’s visible all over the city!  So have fun and and Tweet me your pics! @VinspiredApril

Ramon Navarro + Diane Keaton + Frank Lloyd Wright + Cedric Gibbons

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“…the kind of place crazy movie people built in the crazy twenties.” – No one summed it up better than Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard, although something about this Frank Lloyd Wright creations feels a bit modern, despite the fact that it was built for silent film star Ramon Navarro in 1928.

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This is not the notorious home where Navarro was killed…it’s where he lived during the height of his career.  Legendary Art Director Cedric Gibbons was hired to do the interiors, and Navarro constantly made changes and additions.  The street address at first seems discreet, as the home is constructed into the side of the hill as was common to homes of that period.

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But then a bit farther up you see this:

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After you get over that, appreciate the creative use of copper on this mansion!

The street that runs behind the property actually gives you a better look at the historic home.  It’s changed celebrity hands a number of times, reportedly owned by Leonard Bernstein, Christina Ricci, and preservationist-minded Diane Keaton.  In a city that has razed many of it’s most interesting architectural treasures, it’s nice to see the Navarro house so well preserved.

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