Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Something To Know.....

There was a time before the interwebs, before television actually, that magazines were a major and constant source of entertainment and information.  Everybody subscribed, read and discussed the latest issues.

Magazines themselves were larger, heavier, more substantial than they are now.  None of this People or Us crap!  And many contained extraordinary cover art.

One of the best examples of this was a magazine from out here on the Left Coast.  It was generated by the American Automobile Association or, more specifically, the Automobile Club of Southern California.  It's name.......







Nothing lasts forever.  Westways went to cover photography in 1981.  And while the Great Magazine golden era has passed, the venerable Westways  still  enjoys the 10 largest circulation in the US - larger in fact than People, Time and Newsweek!

Current Jan/Feb 2012 Issue

Why, you ask, the sudden interest in Westways.  Well I'll tell ya kiddies, for starters it's not sudden.  I've been a fan for years.  Oh, and also, the just called The Felix In Hollywood Tour  "The Real Scoop"!  Thank you Westways.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Xmas Cheesecake!

Fabulous singer, actor, writer and lovely friend, Monica Lewis,
does the ol starlet publicity grind with fellow MGM players
Tom and Jerry.  She assures me that they were quite 
lovely to work with.

If you haven't gotten your hands on a copy
of her marvelous bio/picture book yet, 
"Hollywood Through My Eyes:  
The Lives And Loves Of A Golden Age Siren",
treat yourself by going here right away!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

There Never Was....


....who could work a wheelchair like her.  
     Sure do miss her drama.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

That Ballyhooey, Screwy Hollywood.

Debra Paget

Creative Artists Agency Co-Founder, Roland Perkins, discussing his days in the mail room at the William Morris Agency in 1959:

"Sometimes you'd hear things in the building that you couldn't believe.  Once, I walked into an agent's office to get something, and there was another agent with him.  They were talking about actress Debra Paget.  The first guy said, 'Oh, boy, what a dumb c*nt.'  The other guy said, 'Well, she's nice enough, but Jesus....'  Then the phone rang and the secretary said, 'It's Debra Paget.'  The first agent answered and said, 'Hi, honey, we were just talking about you.'  I thought, Okay, now I get what this is all about."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Day Hollywood Went Bop! And More.....

Well I guess I'll never stop learning about this history-rich neighborhood of mine!

On the southeast corner of Vine St. and DeLongpre Ave (1 block south of Sunset) is this really cute little Peruvian restaurant called Los Balcones.  I've been meaning to try it for sometime.  Well now I can't wait to get in there, and not just for a steaming plate of Parihuela either.  No, I want to conjure up some spirits!

It turns out that for a few years, starting in the mid 40s the space where the restaurant is (combined with the psychic's joint next door and the little market next to that) was Billy Berg's.

Billy Berg's was a nightclub.  Okay, not just a nightclub, but a nightclub of Happenings!

For starters it was the first commercial nightclub in Hollywood to be fully integrated - from stage to audience black and white could at last hang out together.

The room was opened in Feb of '45 by Coleman Hawkins. Next up on the bill in May was the brilliant and 'vout-oreenie' Slim Gaillard (the man who coined the term 'groovy').  You'll be hearing more from Slim shortly, but if you don't know him, sniff around the web a lil bit and get informed.  You'll be glad.

Right after Slim's residency, Berg brought in way-out Harry The Hipster:

Harry Gibson (who, btw, coined the term 'hipster') was a whacked out, Harlem jivin', boogie woogie piano pounding blond white kid from the Bronx who's career was re-discovered in the 70s.

Harry The Hipster Gibson on stage at Billy Berg's, Aug. '45

When he hit it at Berg's he was fresh, trending and in the know.  Berg asked the Hipster to recommend a hot act from 52nd street for him to bring out for the club.  Harry didn't even hesitate.  He told the impresario of this cat named Dizzy who had a quintet that was 'gone daddy, I mean gone!'  And there was another cat in the act called Bird who was stratospheric!

Parker and Gillespie

Billy Berg made the deal.  He bought the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet for eight weeks.  A brilliant and innovative musician, Gillespie was also a cagey businessman.  Parker by this time was already becoming unpredictable. He might or might not show up on any given night.  Hedging his bets, Dizzy hired Milt Jackson (the first bop vibraphonist) out of his own pocket as an addition for the date.  That way, if Bird was too high to blow, there would still be a 5-man act to fulfill the contract.  They were supposed to play three sets per night.

On December 10th, 1945, Bop hit town and Hollywood went into orbit.  Kind of.  The first set came and went with no Charlie Parker.  The second set -- same thing.  Parker was not nodding off in some hotel room as you might suspect, he was in fact backstage in the dressing room consuming two complete orders of Comida Conquistador (a huge Mexican sampler platter that was the kitchen's specialty) and drinking tumblers of gin.  Finally when The Bird was stuffed, he entered the showroom from the back blowing a crazy solo on "Cherokee".  Weaving his way through the audience, a hail of notes was shooting out of the horn like a tommy gun.  One by one, the rhythm section fell in with him and by the time he hit the stage, the whole band was cooking, but plenty.  The crowd, it is safe to say, went wild.

Bird on stage at Berg's

The place was packed for the first two weeks mostly out of curiosity, but ultimately the crowds tapered off to be pretty much just other jazz musicians.  Los Angeles simply wasn't ready.  This was the land of warmth and flowers and beaches and melody.  They were having trouble wrapping their sun-baked minds around a sound that was so icy/hot, so full of smoke and concrete and dope and flat ninths and sharp elevenths.  L.A. was still speaking hep; they hadn't yet moved into hip.


One night in 1946 Hoagy Carmichael was enjoying an evening at Berg's club when he heard a familiar sound.

Hoagy Carmichael (2nd from L.) and party at Berg's
On stage was a guy who was born with the name Francesco LoVecchio that the bands would allow to sing for free in between sets.  He had just launched into the chestnut "Rockin' Chair", which Hoagy had written a decade before.  Carmichael loved the way the kid sang his song.  Calls were made, recording dates were set for a tune called "That's My Desire" and in no time the whole world knew Frankie Laine!

Everybody played there -- all the stars went there.  On August 13, 1947 the father of jazz, Louis Armstrong debuted his new band The All Stars at Berg's.


Ad from the Los Angeles Eagle

Then it was December 15th, 1948, that the incomparable Lady Day began an engagement at the club.  At this point in her life, drug busts and prison sentences behind her, unpredictable things had a way of cropping up.  And so we shouldn't be too surprised that on New Year's Eve a rumble broke out in the kitchen with Billie smack in the middle of it all.  Before all was said and done, Lady had smashed every dish she could get her hands on and her lover-of-the-moment, Johnny Levy, had buried a butcher knife into the shoulder of some poor bastard bystander that wasn't even involved in the fracas.  Holiday and Levy were hauled off to jail.

Billie leaves the courthouse.
Oh, and if all that isn't surreal enough for you, did I mention:  Tallulah was there!

Here is an audio clip that was recorded on her opening night of a beautiful tune called "Maybe You'll Be There".  Holiday is backed up by Red Norvo and the boys:


I don't know how long into the 50s Billy Berg's stayed in business, but I do know that I have a new place in the neighborhood to go and feel some way out vibes.....

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I've Been Examined....

This past week  Examiner.com reporter Elisa Jordan did a 5-part series on the six months that young starlet Marilyn Monroe was under contract to Columbia Pictures.  This was in 1948 and, though it was a blink-of-the-eye period, it set some pivotal changes in motion for her.

The last installment which appeared yesterday features an interview with a certain Hollywood historian that we all know and love....

Jordan questions me about the state of affairs on the Columbia Lot in the 40s and you can read it here.

This is the first time Marilyn would see her name on a theater marquee.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

As I Was Saying....

In my recent annual report to you all, I cryptically mentioned that I "Am preparing remarks for my participation in a swell historical/literary salon in January. "

Well it's been formally announced so I can gush a little now.  I've been invited to take part in:

    Click the above for complete info 

An entire evening at the most historically rich address in Hollywood!  During the 1 hour cocktail/mingle portions both before and after dinner is when I step into my role (the role I was born to play) of on-site roving historian to chat Old Hollywood with the attendees.

LAVA (Los Angeles Visionaries Association) was founded and is facilitated by my amazing friends Kim Cooper and Richard Schave of Esotouric bus tours.  They are sweet and kind mentors to me and two of the most interesting people one could ever meet.

For more on "Musso's"  go here and here.

It is nothing short of astounding to me that, in this day of maximizing 'progress', one can walk into a place and dine where Garbo dined!

This is table #1 -- it was Chaplin's booth.

Meet Ruben Rueda, he of the legendary maritinis.  He has worked at Musso & Frank since 1967.  He has served everyone from Orson Welles to Raymond Burr to Bing Crosby to Mick Jagger to Johnny Depp.  Hell, he's driven Charles Bukowski home when he was too drunk to walk and thrown out his buddy Steve McQueen for being too rowdy.  Yet when I'm there, he treats me like a king.

Meet Mark Echeverria, a 4th generation family member of Musso & Frank.  He is the Proprietor/Manager.  You couldn't find a nicer or a more historically minded custodian of it's legacy.  For me Mark has been more than generous with his time and access to the restaurant, the kitchen, the offices upstairs....
.....even the rooftop!!!!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

This Calls For A Celebration!!!

Exactly 100 years ago today Nestor Studios, the first motion picture studio in Hollywood CA, opened up it's doors for business!

Blondeau Tavern soon to be Nestor Studios

It opened at the former Blondeau Tavern (above).  Nestor didn't remain autonomous for long though.  Carl Laemmle, of  Independent Motion Pictures (IMP), absorbed the company along with several others in 1912.  Afterwhich, Nestor head David Horsley and former Nestor Director Al Christie made pictures under the new Laemmle banner of Universal Pictures.

Same site in 1913
After Uncle Carl Laemmle (who had a very large Faemmle) moved Universal to what is still it's location today - Universal City,  Christie split off from the Universal moniker and the lot was now "Christie Comedies".  Christie's company expanded the lot and flourished for the next two decades.

 Christie lot 1926

As we all know, however, progress happens....

Demolition of Christie Studios, 1937

And, every once in a while, progress is not such a horrible thing.....

CBS Columbia Square

Columbia Square opening April 30, 1938

Columbia Square Lobby

View from the stage of the 1000 seat studio A
The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Studio A

Lucille Ball and Richard Denning  "My Favorite Husband"
Agnes Moorehead's legendary performance of "Sorry Wrong Number"

Columbia Square is something of a ghost town now* since local CBS affiliate KCBS and KNX radio left a few years back.  The property is in the hands of new owners who, of course, plan new and dense and tall construction -- once this wacky economy clears up.  They have promised though to preserve Columbia Square.  Meanwhile some of the space is being rented out to production companies, mostly of the reality TV variety.  But it seems as though only 30-40% of the over 100,000 square feet are being used.

So today, on this most special day, I snuck in!  I boldly walked into the lobby, prepared to go into a riff about my historical walking tour and the significance of the building and the necessity of my walking through it.  I was also prepared to get summarily thrown out on my can.  But, don't you know there was no one sitting at the sweater-draped chair behind the receptionist desk!  I was home free.  I knew once I was inside that if I was spotted, I would be assumed to be an employee of one of the tenants.  So in I slipped.  It was a bit disappointing.  Much of the grandeur and streamline of the place was done over (seemingly in the '70s).  But I walked up to the roof top and went to the deck that surrounds the penthouse office (vacant) to snap these pictures just for you of Hollywood on it's 100th birthday:

The roof looking North East. 

The roof looking along the Penthouse wall to North West.  You can barely make out the Hollywood Sign on top of the hill.

Many of the photos above come from the fabulous facebook page CBS Columbia Square Alumni.

*Ghost town indeed.  Scores of former employees from the building insist that, not only does the spirit of CBS founder and president William Paley inhabit the building, but so does that of former KNX morning DJ/television star Bob Crane (Hogan's Heroes).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Can Someone Please Explain This To Me?

Or should I just stay with my original thought that it was a Bette Davis look-a-like contest in a drag bar and Tallulah won.