Neighborhood Ghosts - Marlene Dietrich
Topic: Historic Hollywood
After living for fifteen years in Hollywood you'd think you'd at least know the neighborhood. But then one day this week, with traffic jammed on the Sunset Strip, three short blocks from home, an angry impulsive right turn at the Chateau Marmont, downhill on Harper to get around it all, led to the North Harper Avenue Historic District - roughly North Harper Avenue between Fountain and De Longpre, in what is now West Hollywood. It's on the National Register of Historic Places and everything. It's a block of fantastic and elaborate apartment buildings from Hollywood's Golden Age - where the likes of Katherine Hepburn, Norma Talmadge and Gilbert Roland once lived, in an odd sort of splendor. The buildings have been carefully restored, and they're still in use. The street, in spite of being one block below the heart of the Sunset Strip, is very quiet. It's like stepping back in time.
Neighborhood Ghosts - Marlene Dietrich
It's an architectural giggle - extreme Art Deco, Spanish Colonial Revival, Monterey Revival, elaborate Italianate monsters - and fountains and statues, hidden gardens and fantastic ironwork and detailing. It's a bit off the beaten path, but rather wonderful. There will be a full photo spread in the upcoming Sunday issue of Just Above Sunset, the magazine-format parent to this website. But here's a taste of it.
Romanesque Villa (1928)
1301-1309 North Harper Avenue
In 1928, Michael and Isaac Mann commissioned Leland Bryant to design an apartment building at the corner of Harper and Fountain Avenues. Bryant combined Spanish Colonial Revival and Churrigueresque style was named after the 18th century Spanish architect, Jose Churriquera, who used lavish ornamentation in his designs. It was at this building that the infamous "triangle" between Marlene Dietrich and Josef and Riza Von Sternberg took place and led eventually to the divorce of the Von Sternbergs.
That's amusing. You can imagine her here.
Facts (perhaps) -
No mention of the Josef and Riza Von Sternberg triangle.
Marlene Dietrich (December 27, 1901 - May 6, 1992) was an Academy Award-nominated German-American actress, entertainer and singer. The American Film Institute named Dietrich among the Greatest Female Stars of All Time, ranking here at number nine.
She was born Maria Magdalene Dietrich in Berlin-Schöneberg, Germany to Louis Erich Otto Dietrich and Wilhelmina Elisabeth Josephine Felsing on December 27, 1901. Nicknamed "Lena" within the family, she contracted her two first names to form the then-unusual name, Marlene, when she was still a teenager. Marlene studied the violin before starting work as a chorus girl and actress for Max Reinhardt in theatre productions in Berlin and Vienna throughout the 1920's.
Marlene made her film debut in 1923. In 1929, she got the role of "Lola-Lola" in UFA's production, The Blue Angel (1930), which was one of the first European sound films. The film was directed by Josef von Sternberg.
She then moved to Hollywood to make Morocco, for which she received her only Oscar nomination. Her most lasting contribution to film history was as the star in several films directed by von Sternberg in the pre-Code early 1930s, such as The Scarlet Empress and Shanghai Express, in which she played "femmes fatales" She gradually broadened her repertoire in Destry Rides Again, The Spoilers, A Foreign Affair, Witness for the Prosecution, Touch of Evil and Judgment at Nuremberg.
In 1937, while her film career stalled in Hollywood, she made a film in London for producer Alexander Korda. In later interviews, she claimed that while in London to film Knight Without Armour (1937) she was approached by representatives of the Nazi party to return to Germany, but turned them down flat. Her US film career was revived with the Western Destry Rides Again (1939) costarring James Stewart, and featuring a famous fistfight with the character played by actress Una Merkel. Dietrich became an American citizen in 1939.
Unlike her professional celebrity, which was carefully crafted and maintained, Dietrich's personal life was kept out of public view. She married once, to director's assistant Rudolf Sieber, a Roman Catholic who later became a director at Paramount Pictures in France.
Her only child, Maria Elizabeth Sieber (married name Maria Riva), was born on December 13, 1924. When Maria Riva gave birth to a son in 1948, Dietrich was dubbed "the world's most glamorous grandmother." The great love of the actress's life, however, was the French actor and military hero Jean Gabin. Their relationship ended in the mid-1940's. During the 1950's, she had relationships with Edward R Murrow, Yul Brynner and Frank Sinatra. As for her husband, he had a tragically unstable longterm mistress, Tamara Matul, with whom he lived on a chicken farm in California. Dietrich and her husband remained close.
She was reportedly offered a king's ransom to return to Germany, due to her immense popularity as well as Hitler's ardour, which she declined. It is true that she quipped that she would return only when one of her Jewish friends (possibly Max Reinhardt) could accompany her.
It has also been indicated that she was bisexual, having romantic affairs with actresses like Ona Munson and writer Mercedes de Acosta. Dietrich was also involved with President John F. Kennedy.
Sunset Strip Images
Topic: Light and Shadow
These are just studies in composition, or maybe they're social commentary. There was an open parking space on the Sunset Strip, just across the street from the Chateau Marmont, and that place is famous - in 1982 John Belushi died of a drug overdose in one of its garden bungalows, Jim Morrison of The Doors used up what he called the eighth of his nine lives falling out of a window there, James Dean hopped in through a window to audition for Rebel Without a Cause (and the director and cast stayed there during the shoot), Led Zeppelin rode their motorcycles through the lobby one evening to cheering guests (some modest damage that night), and fashion photographer Helmut Newton died when his car crashed exiting the hotel driveway. The parking space was right where his SUV came to rest. But nothing was happing this day, Tuesday, September 26.
On the other hand, the camera was in the car and the light was good, so it was three dimes in the parking meter and a few shots, to give you a feel for this neighborhood. This is three short blocks from home. The first shot - behind a new club being built at Harper Avenue, a look at an Emporio Armani billboard to the left of the Chateau Marmont, a study in angles and color. The second shot - the Gucci billboard to the east, for a flavor of the pretension out here. The third shot is for the contrasts - the parking space was in front National Lampoon, but the magazine essentially exists today only as a logo and a trademark for licensing purposes, as it faded in the mid-seventies when key staffers when off to work for Saturday Night Live. Oh well. There was a new Bentley and fancy Porsche out front.
Topic: Historic Hollywood
That's the Art Deco Sunset Tower Hotel up there on the Sunset Strip (8358 Sunset Boulevard), back to its original name after being the Argyle for a bit - 1929, architect Leland A. Bryant. It's very famous, in a good number of films, and once home to Howard Hughes, John Wayne, Paulette Goddard, Zasu Pitts, and that famous gangster with the great name, Bugsy Siegel. It seems everyone lived there. The link will tell you more. A few other photos of the building are here and here, and in the January 2006 issue of Travel and Leisure there's a feature article here (PDF format) that's says it is one of the best hotels in the world, or may be.
The building may be worth a full photo shoot one day, inside and out, but that's been done by others and getting permission from the PR folks is always a hassle. We'll see. For now, this is how it looked late in the afternoon, September 24, 2006, from Franklin Avenue, with a ratty Faux Norman place in the foreground. The shot sort of captures the late twenties mix of fakery you found out here in those days. The fakery has changed since those days, but not that much - drive through Beverly Hills and look at the new MacMansions.
Note this screen-grab from the Sunset Tower Hotel site - the man got it right -
More mixed mode just off Hollywood Boulevard - amusing angles, pigeons and a lamppost -
Things To Do On A Sunday Afternoon In Hollywood
Topic: Unusual Events
Things To Do On A Sunday Afternoon In Hollywood
Sunday in Hollywood - slept in, as production of the weekly magazine-format Just Above Sunset ran late. So it was lots of black coffee and plowing through the Sunday Los Angeles Times, run a few errands, and then walk down the hill for a photo shoot.
Downhill - a few steps down to Sunset Boulevard, one block down to Franklin, and one block down to Santa Monica Boulevard. That's Historic Route 66 - just like in the 1946 Booby Troop song - get your kicks on Route 66 and all that. There's a sign that says so - "Historic Route 66" - just so you know.
The day's kicks were a few blocks west at Barneys Beanery - the Second Annual Route 66 Highway of Dreams Charity Car Show - ninety vintage cars and celebrity classics, exhibits, food, festivities and a car competition, as they promised. George Barris - the "Kustom King" - was this year's Honorary Chairmen, but I missed him. No matter - I've covered his cars before, twice actually.
And I've photographed and commented on Barneys Beanery before (see the last photo on this page) - on October 4, 1970, Janis Joplin sat at her favorite booth, thirty-four, and downed two screwdrivers before heading up to the Landmark Hotel (gone now). She died there later that evening.
But the cars were great - took a hundred shots and the best will appear in next Sunday's weekly. There was a very cool 1938 Peugeot 402 Eclipse DeCapotable with a retractable hardtop - just like the little Benz SLK I used to own (not really). It won Best in Show. The European machines were impressive - a pristine 1956 Benz 300SL Gull Wing Coupe (very red), a perfect 1954 Jaguar XK120 Fixed Head Coupe (egg shaped and egg white), and there were the two blonds in the 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO - but the Ferrari turned out to be a reproduction, built on a Datsun 240Z with Ferrari parts. Well, the girls were trying their best to do the Paris Hilton thing, but that wasn't working out either. The American machines were great - old Packard monsters and custom rods and all. There was even a 1962 Amphicar - the little convertible your drive into the water and then use as a boat. It was turquoise and the twin propellers under the rear bumper were white. Cute.
But there was the Janis Joplin vibe, and the best cars were parked in the shade under Emser Tile - the building used in Lethal Weapon for the scene where the businessman wants to commit suicide and Mel Gibson goes all crazy and jumps off the roof with him. They're handcuffed together. Yipes. I walked home to my place, a few doors from where F. Scott Fitzgerald drank himself to death while working on The Last Tycoon. It was his birthday. It seemed best to hide and process the photos.
Here are some of them, starting with the Peugeot, followed by the 1956 Benz 300SL Gull Wing Coupe, then the 1954 Jaguar XK120 Fixed Head Coupe.
Coming tomorrow in the new issue of the online magazine Just Above Sunset, a photo study of one of the oddest apartment buildings you'll ever see - "El Bordello Alexandra" at 20 Westminster, Venice Beach. There's this web page where a local tries to explain the place.
Below are two of the fifteen shots that week be posted tomorrow. It's a giggle.