Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Hollywood theater and Hollywood 1957

The Hollywood theater was a fun place in 1957. That was so long ago wasn't it? You never knew who would suddenly come in. I recall, in addition to the other celebrities I have mentioned, Joan Collins came to the theater with her boyfriend who had forgotten his billfold. Joan opened her purse and was searching for enough money to pay for the tickets. She seemed to be having a hard time and I offered to let them in "free." She said no, that she had some money somewhere and she did eventually find enough to pay for two tickets. Perry Lopez, part of the James Dean, Natalie Wood crowd that frequented Barney's Beanery, used to come in and he always bought strawberry ice cream in a dixie cup. Rusty Tamblyn came and I almost fainted. He had been one of my favorite actors and never seemed to age as he got older. I mentioned Marjorie Main, "Ma Kettle," in the previous chapter. Percy Kilbride, "Pa Kettle," was killed on Hollywood Boulevard when he was hit by a car while crossing a street.

Hollywood's gay life was all around Hollywood in those days. And not isolated to Santa Monica Boulevard and West Hollywood as it is today. There were all type of bars. I recall the Vieux Carre on Las Palmas, right off Hollywood Boulevard. It was one of my favorites. They had two bars and live entertainment on weekends, usually playing jazz. Until recently, it was a Mexican restaurant. Now, it's some sort of straight dance club. South on Las Palmas was the House Of Ivy. It was a large bar, that remided me of an English pub. It had two bars but couldn't get an entertainment license for live entertainment. So they had a closed circuit television set-up and an organist would play tunes that could be viewed on monitors in the club. (This was in 1957 years ahead of these, now common, set-ups). He took requests and then played them, wearing women's outrageous hats. It wasn't high brow, like the Vieux Carre. It was a cruisy, jam packed bar, and a lot of fun. It was across the street from the Las Palmas newsstand and now called Le Dieux. It had lost all of its character but still attracts many celebrities. Next door to Steve Boardner's bar, (still active today and mainly straight) was the gay Aunt Charlie's bar. They also had a gay greeting card shop on the boulevard next to the Vogue theater. The Vogue was new at that time and now shuttered for many years. Years later I bought and sold some of those cards at my bookstore in Flint.

Mr. T, not the actor on TV, but an entrepreneur of gay bars at the time, had a bar next door to the Vieux Carre, called Camp's Bar. He always had the best looking, young bartenders. And a semi-drag team, Maurice and Lamont, used to pantomime to records on stage. I said semi-drag, because in those days impersonaters couldn't wear falsies and had to have on men's underwear under their drag costumes. They did a real campy, Yma Sumac number, but wore it out, doing it night after night. The Cherry Cove, an upscale cocktail lounge, was near the Knickerbocker Hotel, a block or so away. In those days, there were no drug problems, no gangs, and the boulevard was a place to have fun.

The Seven Seas Restaurant, where TV's "Queen for a Day," would be taken for dinner, was at the corner of Orchid Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard and was recently called Club Hollywood. Orchid Avenue no longer exists and the new Hollywood/Highland complex with the Kodak theater, sit there.

The famous Villa Capri, a James Dean hangout and his favorite eating place, was located on McCadden Place and in 1957 relocated to Yucca, at the end of the block. Tours today, say Dean hung out there, but Dean died before that location was built in 1957. It closed after Patsy D'Amore died and for a while it was a radio station. Don the Beachcombers, was next door to the old Capri, and was there until 1957, but razed a few years later after a fire. That spot is now a parking lot. Dean had hung out in both places.

In 1957, there were few tall buildings, due to earthquakes. Now steel is stronger and tall buildings have risen all over town. Los Angeles has always been a town of building and tearing down. Something that was new twenty years ago, is now demolished for something new. In those days it was safe to walk along Hollywood Boulevard. There were beat cops, walking, but now they ride in cruisers. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce or some other oganization, now have a few private security guards walking the Boulevard beat. There used to be a lot of nice restaurants and clothing stores. Now it seems to thrive on T-shirt shops. In 1957 there were hardly an souvenirs for tourists. Now souvenir stores clog up Hollywood Boulevard. Many new bars have opened and the Hollywood/Highland complex avoided bankruptcy, although the location cost 700 million to build, it sold for 200 million, within a two year period. The builders tried to do in Hollywood, what they did in Times Square. But, Hollywood isn't Times Square or New York City. Movie stars used to shop in Hollywood. Now and then you may catch one sneaking into "Musso and Franks," Hollywood's oldest and best restaurant. They park in the lot in the rear, unnoticed, and leave the same way. Nobody sees them going in and out.

I remember when "Ben Hur," played the Egyptian theater. It ran exclusively for nearly two years. It was always packed and was a Roadshow engagement. I remember one of the chariots from the film, had been on display in front of the theater, by the sidewalk, day and night and nobody bothered it. Today it would be stolen the first night, or maybe even during the day.

One night, on my work break from the theater, I walked up McCadden to the new Villa Capri. I heard there were some celebrities there. I arrived just as Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Frank Sinatra were leaving. They were all driving new, white '57 T-birds. On Vine Street was the El Capitan theater where Tennessee Ernie Ford did his television show. It was across from Capitol records and now called the Palace. I used to watch the show a couple times a week, when they taped it. Molly Bee and Tommy Sands (teen idols), were regulars on the show. I was surprised that Tennessee read "everything" from teleprompters, even the words to his songs, (I guess similar to Karaoke today). He couldn't ad-lib. Even his jokes were prepared to be read off the prompters. That really surprised me. The former Paramount theater across from Grauman's is now called the El Capitan theater.

The Hollywood Ranch market was located on Vine Street, south of Sunset Boulevard and open all night. It was one of the few places where a person could cash a check. It stocked fresh fruit and was often frequented by the movie colony crowd. Steve Allen used to broadcast his shows from a studio close by. The Ranch market burned down and is now a small mall. Near there was Competition Motors, where James Dean had bought his last Porsche.

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