Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


How to go from:


Theda Bara, 1919


Somebody's Bubbe

Theodosia Goodman, 1939  (photo by Carl Van Vechten)

In twenty short years.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ciro's Baby!

We've all heard about the fabled Sunset Strip nightspot where glamour was on the menu and star wattage was the cover charge.

Legends played that stage and played in that audience.  And since we've all heard about it you'll be relieved to know that an overview of the great Ciro's is not what were going to talk about today.

Kay Thompson and The Williams Brothers slay 'em in '47

Rosie Clooney, Jose Ferrer and Marlene Dietich can't put on 'photo face' one more time tonight, '55.

Before we get on to the topic du jour, I must say though, I have no idea when Ciro's owner William Wilkerson had time to darn his socks, the man owned and ran simply everything.  Very interesting cat; must do a piece on him one day.

Alright on to the business at hand.  A few days ago, I ran this picture:

on the Facebook tour company fan page because Abbe Lane was one hot dish and, well because I like the picture....by the way, this brings up another thought, why haven't more of you guys hopped over to that fanpage and hit the like button?  Really, I ask so little.  Do it when your done here would ya?....Sorry lost my train of thought for a sec (I hate it when you make me petulant).  Anyway, when I posted the shot, it caused quite a flurry.  And while I'm sure the flurry was more about Abbe's body than Ciro's (or in Norma Desmond's case the Jag in the background) it sent me on a Ciro's google-fest because that's how misguided I am sometimes.  Well it's a good thing I am, because it allowed me to dig up this little tidbit, just for you!

It seems that in 1951 a pretty young gal by the name of Margaret Barstow was employed as a Ciro's cigarette girl/hatcheck girl.

Margaret Barstow

Well, on the night of August 19, 1951 in the middle of the floor show, a panicked announcement came from the stage.  It was the old, "Is there a Doctor in the house!"  Now how or why they could let a girl in such an advanced state of "expecting" (to use the Hay's Office preferred term) continue to work nightly is beyond me, but I try to stay out of those things.  As luck would have it, Dr. Bert Tardius was indeed in the house and, wasting not one precious moment,  ushered Margaret upstairs to a private dining room and delivered a bawling 6 pound 13 ounce baby girl.  The parents, expecting a boy, named the Ciro's progeny Rex, which is actually a very cool name for a girl.  I have not been able to find out if Ciro's named a drink after baby Rex, but unless there were two Margaret Barstows in Hollywood in the early fifties, it seems as though mama was able to parlay the notoriety into a couple of bit part appearances on the silver screen (From Here To Eternity, Artists and Models)  'cause that's how we roll here in Hollywood.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Where Is It?

Back in March I mentioned the Debbie Reynolds Auction, and that there was an item that I really coveted.  I also mentioned that I wouldn't be insulted if one of you all won it for me.  Well, as you've doubtless heard, the auction is over.  (blah, blah, Marilyn's dress, blah blah.)  So I'm waiting to be contacted by the winner to give you my address for the Valentino suit of lights!  Don't be shy....

For a witty perspective on the auction from an attendee, See Paul T. Bradley's account in his blog post for the L.A. Weekly.

Monday, June 20, 2011

America's - and my - Singing Sweetheart.

Listen, I figure you don't get a chance to say something like this all too often, and I'm not about to miss my chance, so here goes:  Last Friday I met a gal who appeared on the very first Ed Sullivan show.

Yeah, I thought that might get your attention - it sure got mine.

On my tour company facebook page I feature a daily "Snapshot of Old Hollywood", and on the eve of Daylight Savings Time I used this one:

The caption informed me that the tiny figure precariously perched on the ladder atop the Eastern building in downtown L.A. was an MGM starlet named Monica Lewis.  I wasn't familiar with the name and figured she had come to Hollywood somewhere in the late forties or early fifties done a few bit parts and then gone home to Oklahoma or Montana.  Well let me tell you how wrong a fella can be!

On Friday Monica had a book signing of her new picture book/bio at a jewel of an independent book store, "Book Soup", on the Sunset Strip.

Now, I'm not going to go on at length here because there's an awful lot of 'Wow' factor in these pages that I don't want to spoil, and I really want you to get your hands on this book!

Did I mention she was stacked!

But to whet your appetite (in addition to the aforementioned appearance on the inaugural Sullivan show):

Her first love is music and when you read about her family; it couldn't have been any other way.

She and her first husband founded a jazz record label for which she recorded called Signature.

She has also produced records on Decca, MGM, Jubilee, Capitol and Verve.

My very favorite picture of Monica.  Dimples!

She was the voice of Chiquita Banana for 14 years.

The Society of Illustrators named her "Miss Leg-O-Genic"

She was an indefatigable supporter and performer for troupes in both WWII and the Korean War. 

MGM, in their infinite wisdom, and the shakeup of replacing Louis Mayer with Dore Schary, didn't know what to do with her and insisted on re-making her in the image of Lana Turner.

A blatant Lana-like Monica.

She had a long and beautiful second marriage to Universal Exec and Producer Jennings Lang, that permitted her to do small parts over the years in his pictures.  Her appearances were seen as his good luck charm.

After all those years, still hanging off of buildings!  Monica and Charlton Heston from "Earthquake!"

We got to speak for a couple of minutes before the signing and she confided that she found the event to be so much fun.  She added that, at her age (she will soon be 90) she would take fun wherever she could find it!  She told me that she doesn't walk so hot anymore and that her voice is gone.  Later while waiting on line to have my book signed, the guy in front of me brought an old piece of sheet music with her on the cover and asked her if she would sign it.  She took looked at it and smiled the smile of a thousand memories and sang the first line of it.  What came out was a sound so rich and velvety that I broke out in chills.  "No voice anymore?", I thought to myself, "yeah, sure!"  She was beautiful, she was adorable, I was charmed.

I'm about half way through the book and what a swell book it is.  Warm, funny, conversational, a bit saucy from time to time and not a dull moment.  It's one to treasure,  just like its' author.

Till you can read it pop over to her website, click on the 'songs' tab, and treat yourself to that voice.  It was no mistake that she was called "America's Singing Sweetheart"

Beautiful Monica today.  Photo by Alan Mercer.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Great Face For Radio....

Blogging - it's not just for keyboards anymore!  I am being interviewed tonight on the John W. Smart show "Talking With...."  If you would like to listen live, it will air at 6pm (PST), 9pm (EST).  But through the magic of the intertubes you can always download it after the fact and listen at your leisure. 

"Talking With...." is a new show and I'm his first guest.

For quite some time now, John has had a very popular (and compelling) blogtalk radio show on Mondays and Tuesdays called "The List".  It's politics, baby.  Like all commentators, he has a definite set of principles and beliefs, and is not above having guests on with opposing ideas.  But what sets his format apart and makes for a rewarding  listen is that, he doesn't humiliate and shred those guests!  In a rare (these days) move, he performs like a grown up, keeps the discourse civil, and thanks these guests for their time!  As a result, I find that I am caused to actually think through and own my own opinions, rather than just having the knee-jerk 'jump to the left, jump to the right' reaction that I experience with more divisive interviewers.

Though a self described "Political Junkie", Smart has many areas of interest and wanted a forum to explore them.  Hence the decision to continue doing  "The List" on Mondays and start the new "Talking With...." on Tuesdays.

Here's the link for the show tonight:  http://www.blogtalkradio.com/johnwsmart/2011/06/15/the-list--talking-with

Here is Smart's blog:  http://johnwsmart.wordpress.com/

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bathhouse Bogie.

Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre play gin rummy while having a schvitz at the Finlandia Baths, 9026 Sunset Blvd.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Ten Years Ago.....

I spent all of 2001 working on the documentary "Joan Crawford:  The Ultimate Movie Star" .  I'm still very proud to have been associated with this project.  Commissioned by Turner Classic Movies, Producer/Writer/Director Peter Fitzgerald turned in a balanced and compelling look at Crawford that was the first to re-examine Crawford's legacy in the wake of the devastation done to it by that adopted daughter.

As Associate Producer on the show, much of my year was spent combing through the AMPAS Margaret Herrick Library (which holds a massive MGM collection), and the Warner Bros. Archives at USC, for photos and ephemera.  We used over 1000 stills in the movie!  I was also present at all of the taped 'talking head' interviews for general coordination purposes.  My favorite interview subjects were:  Judy Geeson, Betsy Palmer, and Vincent Sherman.  My least favorite:  Christina Crawford  (4 1/2 hours of tape and you couldn't get that woman to say one nice thing about her mother, whom she referred to as either "my adoptive mother" or "Crawford", sheesh let it go already!)

Truck Driver in a blonde wig.

Without a doubt the most bizarre day was the interview with silent screen star Anita Page.  I was waiting outside the rental sound stage on the lookout for her on one of those hot, still, smoggy LA days when, 25 mins. after the scheduled arrival time, a beat up 10 year old silver Chevy Caprice came careening around the corner and screeched to a halt.  Then, in a well rehearsed, oft-performed kind of chinese fire drill, three sycophants sprung into action, produced a wheel chair from the trunk, and loaded a shrunken, bent fossil of a being into it.  She had about three hairs on her head and was wearing sweats, slippers, those scary old-people-wrap-around-cataract-sunglasses, and the placid, vacant look of the feeble minded.

Once inside the soundstage, they never stopped for introductions, they just whizzed her through and back to the dressing rooms area, yelling lighting instructions over their shoulders and saying they would bring "Miss Page" out when she was ready.  Two hours later:

We were informed that her mind had "slipped a bit recently" and that she was experiencing "not a good day".  I suppose that's one way to look at it.  What I saw was an elderly woman who should have been let alone in comfort with medical supervision instead of painted, plastered and trotted out like some Sunset Blvd./Baby Jane circus pony.  The poor thing had no purchase on reality.  But just after they hoisted her up in her interview chair the strangest thing happened that still brings chills at the thought.  From some cellular memory, very slowly she shifted in the chair and tilted her face up and back, straight into the key light, and smiled.

Her mind had become a many-holed whack-a-mole game with random thoughts popping up here and there.  As sad as it was, a good deal of money from our humble budget had been dedicated for the day, and for the next few hours Peter valiantly trudged forward to get the few lucid sentences that we wound up using.  Anita seemed to actually enjoy herself and the attention she was getting there in the lights.

When it was over and they were leaving, her "people" said that if we could use her in any other interviews or heard of any suitable acting jobs to let them know.   Miss Page was available.

Anita & Me having an unfortunate hair moment.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

You Say You Want A Revolution, Well You Know....

It's a good thing I was raised to root for the underdog.  When I started my tour company a few months back I had no idea how much of an underdog I was to become, and how much rooting would be required for both me and my fellow underdogs.

There was an article several weeks ago in the L.A. Times announcing that the largest tour bus sightseeing company in town and an enormous, successful gossip website/tv show organization were teaming up to offer some sort of stalker/paparazzi tour.


I was interviewed for the article (which I was told was going to be about various new tours opening in the area).  The published article however, mentioned only them and me.  I was given two sentences and framed as sort of the 'don't-bother David' with the rest of the article focused on there 'OMG-how-fab Goliath'.  When I read this, I remember thinking, "how am I ever supposed to compete with the massive, corporate driven, publicity machine of these people!"

What I offer is as opposite to them as a game of  marbles is to Grand Theft Auto but nonetheless, we are both competing for the same sightseeing tourism audience.

Turns out the article shook more than just me up!  In short order a call to arms went out (arms of loving support) and the result is:

For a good time, click!

7 Days In LA is a brand new website/calendar offering 14 different independent tour operators that can give you a variety of was to explore Los Angeles!  We are all, in our different ways, 'Artisans of the Tour'.  I'm just crazy about my fellows in this endeavor and would recommend any of the tours they do.  What's your interest:  Hollywood History, Architecture, True Crime Stories, Gay History, Film Locations, Grave Yards?  We got 'em and more! Each company has a bio page and there is an updating calendar of tours being offered.  Just find something you want and from there you can go to the individual company's website for contact info and ticket purchases.

One day after launching we've been garnering quite a bit of notice already but my favorite is crime novelist Christa Faust tweeted this to 1700 followers:

"Think L.A. is all fake tits and Ferraris? Think again. http://www.7daysinla.com/"

So, a revolution?  Perhaps not, but I'll be satisfied with a more level playing field!