Film Noir File: Classic so-good sleepers ‘The Narrow Margin,’ ‘The Locket’ and ‘Angel Face’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously in Film Noir Blonde and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

Pick of the Week: TCM’s Summer of Darkness continues to delight

Friday, July 24

The next-to-last chapter of TCM’s deluxe film-noir binge-a-thon Summer of Darkness commences today. It’s another feast for film noir buffs. As we know by now, Turner Classic Movies has been sharing its great shadowy treasure trove of classic film noir on Friday nights.

Marie Windsor

Marie Windsor

This week’s dark list includes Richard Fleischer’s terrific low-budget death-rides-the-train sleeper, “The Narrow Margin,“ starring Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor — one of director Billy Friedkin’s faves. You’ll also see Hollywood expressionist John Brahm’s stylish triple-flashback thriller, “The Locket” with Robert Mitchum. And don’t even think about missing Otto Preminger’s French critical favorite “Angel Face“ (one of Jean-Luc Godard’s picks for his all-time Best American Talkies list). This time Mitchum is smitten with Jean Simmons. Bitch-slap trivia: “Angel Face” is the movie where Mitchum punched Preminger for being mean to Jean.

Also on Friday’s all-day bill of noir: highlights with ace actors like Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, Mitchum, Barbara Stanwyck, Mickey Rooney, Evelyn Keyes, Jane Russell, Jeanne Moreau, Vincent Price, John Payne and Raymond Burr, and directors like Nick Ray, Josef von Sternberg (on the same show), Louis Malle, Phil Karlson and Fritz Lang.

Curated and hosted in the evening by the Czar of Noir himself, Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation and the Noir City film festivals, TCM’s Summer of Darkness is a standout fest of classic killings, broken dreams and movie nightmares. All that and Marilyn Monroe (in “Clash by Night”) too.

We don’t want this summer to end!

6:45 a.m. (3:45 a.m.): “Roadblock” (1950, Harold Daniels). Charles McGraw and Joan Dixon in a poor man‘s “Double Indemnity.”

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “The Strip” (1951, Leslie Kardos). Mickey Rooney is a luckless jazz drummer who gets in a bad fix trying to help Hollywood hopeful Sally Forrest. The great guest musical stars here include Louis Armstrong, and Satchmo’s longtime friends and sidemen Jack Teagarden and Earl Hines.

9:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m.): “Beware, My Lovely” (1952, Harry Horner). Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan strike sparks in an icy domestic suspenser.

Robert Ryan and Marilyn Monroe are bored with small-town life in “Clash by Night.”

Robert Ryan and Marilyn Monroe are bored with small-town life in “Clash by Night.”

11:15 a.m. (8:15 a.m.): “Clash by Night” (1953, Fritz Lang). Barbara Stanwyck is an independent woman in 1950s America. Trouble, here we come! She can’t keep a man, but then who’d want to when edgy Robert Ryan is around to get in trouble with? Marilyn Monroe is splendid as a small-town factory girl.

1:15 p.m. (10:15 a.m.): “Kansas City Confidential” (1952, Phi Karlson). A good crisp Karlson heist, pulled off by a mob that includes Preston Foster and Colleen Gray.

3 p.m. (12 p.m.): “Macao” (1952, Josef von Sternberg & Nicholas Ray).

4:45 p.m. (1:45 p.m.): “Talk About a Stranger” (1952, David Bradley). Gossipers wreak havoc in a talky small town. A look at U. S. Senator George Murphy and First Lady Nancy Davis (Reagan) in their movie days.

6:15 p.m. (3:15 p.m.): “Split Second” (1953, Dick Powell). In this nerve-racking thriller, outlaw Stephen McNally and hostages Alexis Smith, Jan Sterling and others are trapped together in a desert nuclear bomb testing site.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Narrow Margin” (1952, Richard Fleischer).

9:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m.): “His Kind of Woman” (1951, John Farrow).

11:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m.): “The Locket” (1946, John Brahm).

1:30 a.m. (10:30 p.m.): “Angel Face” (1953, Otto Preminger).

3:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m.): “Elevator to the Gallows” (1958, Louis Malle).

[Read more…]

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Happy birthday, Marilyn!

Marilyn Monroe would have been 89 today. We are re-running this essay as a tribute to our favorite blonde bombshell.

Marilyn Monroe (June 1, 1926-Aug. 5, 1962) will be honored at a memorial service on Monday, Aug. 5, in Westwood.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Marilyn modeled to support herself.

Bugs. Dogs. God. Since childhood, she was quick to ask questions about the everyday and the esoteric. This little girl named Norma Jean, as curious and proud as she was lonely and neglected, grew up to be Marilyn Monroe, the world’s most iconic and enduring sex symbol. Her love affair with the public still burns bright more than 50 years after her death on Aug. 5, 1962. She was 36.

Perhaps she sought answers and collected facts as a distraction from the grinding poverty and desperate uncertainty she faced as a kid. Her mother, Gladys, who fought bouts of mental illness, was unable to take care of her and her father had long been absent from their lives.

Norma Jean bounced between friends’ places and foster homes in Los Angeles. She was treated poorly for the most part, made to bathe in dirty water, molested by a man named Mr. Kimmel, pushed into marriage at 16 to Jim Dougherty, whom she barely knew, to avoid returning to the orphanage.

She was physically as well as intellectually precocious, fully developed by 12, and she knew her looks would open doors for her. There was a way, she believed, she could parlay her games of make believe into something refined, meaningful and artistic. If she got training and made the right connections, she could escape from her harrowing childhood.

“The truth was that with all my lipstick and mascara and precocious curves, I was as unsensual as a fossil. But I seemed to affect people quite otherwise.” — MM on her school days

Groucho Marx described Marilyn as Mae West, Theda Bara and Little Bo Peep all rolled into one.

“In Hollywood a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hair-do.” — MM

“After a few months, I learned how to reduce the boredom [at a Hollywood party] considerably. This was to arrive around two hours late.” — MM

As a struggling model and actress, Marilyn would spend Sundays at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, watching people walk from the trains to be greeted, hugged and kissed, wondering what it would feel like to be cared about, to be missed and wanted.

“I could never be attracted to a man who had perfect teeth. I don’t know why, but I have always been attracted to men who wore glasses.” — MM

She got a few small parts in the pictures, studied acting and attended Hollywood parties, carefully crossing her legs to hide the holes in her nylons, quietly watching other guests play cards and win money.

“When the men laughed and pocketed the thousands of dollars of winnings as if they were made of tissue paper, I remembered my Aunt Grace and me waiting in line at the Holmes Bakery to buy a sackful of stale bread for a quarter to live on a whole week,” she recalled in her memoir (co-written with Ben Hecht), “My Story.”

The studio suits weren’t encouraging. Darryl Zanuck and Dore Schary told her that she was unphotogenic, that she didn’t have the right look. She persevered. Eventually, it was her enraptured fans (she garnered 7,000 letters a week) who fueled her fame and propelled her rise to the top. “I knew I belonged to the public and to the world, not because I was talented or even beautiful but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else.”

“We were the prettiest tribe of panhandlers that ever overran a town.” — MM on her early years as a Hollywood actress.

One of her most important movies, early on, was a film noir: “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950, John Huston). “Don’t Bother to Knock” (1952, Roy Ward Baker) and “Niagara” (1953, Henry Hathaway) also showcased her talent for playing dark, dangerous women.

The studio pushed her toward lighter fare – musicals and comedies – where she played frothy flirts and bubble-headed gold diggers: “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953, Howard Hawks), “How to Marry a Millionaire” (1953, Jean Negulesco) and “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (1954, Walter Lang).

Marilyn pushed back, wanting more complex parts and sometimes she got them. She teamed up with some of Hollywood’s greatest directors: Huston, Hawks, Otto Preminger in “River of No Return” (1954), Joshua Logan in “Bus Stop” (1956), twice with Billy Wilder, in 1955’s “The Seven Year Itch” and four years later in the black-comedy classic “Some Like It Hot.”

In 1960, she worked with George Cukor in “Let’s Make Love.” Cukor also directed her in the unfinished “Something’s Got to Give” (1962). She co-starred with Sir Laurence Olivier (he also directed) in “The Prince and the Showgirl” (1957) and earned acclaim for her work, especially from European critics.

“In a daydream you jump over facts as easily as a cat jumps over a fence.” — MM

It was choreographer Jack Cole’s idea to pair pink and red in the color scheme of 1953’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

Marilyn was the favorite movie actress of the French philosopher/novelist/playwright Jean-Paul Sartre, and he wrote the lead female part in his original script “Freud” (1962) for her. (Susannah York played it.)

“I’ve often stood silent at a party for hours listening to my movie idols turn into dull and little people.” — MM

Her boyfriends reportedly included Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Elia Kazan, Orson Welles, Yves Montand, John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy; her best girlfriend (and one-time roommate) was Shelley Winters. During the height of her fame, Marilyn married two more times – to Yankee baseball great Joe DiMaggio (January-October 1954) and to playwright Arthur Miller (1956-1961).

Miller wrote “The Misfits” (1961) for her. In that ill-fated film, Marilyn co-starred with Clark Gable, the movie star she’d so often pretended was her father, and was directed by Huston, whom she considered a genius. During the arduous shoot in the Nevada desert, the Monroe-Miller marriage came apart. Gable died from a heart attack days after the filming ended. Said Huston of Marilyn: “She went right down into her own personal experience for everything, reached down and pulled something out of herself that was unique and extraordinary. She had no techniques. It was all the truth, it was only Marilyn.”

Marilyn once implored a LIFE reporter: “Please don’t make me a joke.”

Her vulnerability and little-girl-lost quality, coupled with her stunning looks and glamour, are often cited as the reasons for her widespread, lasting appeal.

There’s no doubt she faced a litany of lingering problems: a family history of mental illness; emotional instability and physical maladies; a dependency on drugs and alcohol; endometriosis, abortions and miscarriages; difficulty remembering lines and showing up on time; broken marriages and failed affairs as well as frustration and fights with 20th Century-Fox (the studio refused to let her see scripts in advance of a shoot, then relented).

Some of her early work is slightly cloying – the breathy voice a little too mannered, her demeanor a little forced. And despite critical recognition for “Bus Stop,” “Prince” and “Some Like It Hot,” she remained pigeonholed as a blonde bombshell, a sexy joke.

“When you’re a failure in Hollywood – that’s like starving to death outside a banquet hall with the smells of filet mignon driving you crazy.” — MM

Orry-Kelly designed Marilyn’s clothes in “Some Like It Hot.”

“When you’re broke and a nobody and a man tells you that you have the makings of a star, he becomes a genius in your eyes.” — MM

Marilyn’s marriage to playwright Arthur Miller came apart while making “The Misfits.” Co-star Clark Gable died days after shooting ended.

Yet it was her precise and subtle comic timing that set her apart from other actresses. As Wilder put it: “She was an absolute genius as a comic actress, with an extraordinary sense for comic dialogue. … Nobody else is in that orbit; everyone else is earthbound by comparison.”

“To love without hope is a sad thing for the heart.” — MM

Humor was likely a coping mechanism she’d honed in an effort to ward off the crushing emptiness she’d known since childhood. Norma Jean saw movies again and again at Hollywood theaters; play-acting with other kids, she thought up the good stuff, the drama.

Marilyn liked her body and, some days, she enjoyed the attention she got from her looks. But she also gave the impression that her beauty could be swiftly forgotten, that she got bored too fast to dwell on her appearance. Underneath the surface, right alongside the troubled soul, was a well of pure bliss that wasn’t hard to reach, if she had a receptive audience, whether it was a likeminded bookworm friend or a movie palace packed with people.

When the fantasy was in full, giddy swing, she laughed sweetly and cynically, sometimes at herself. She could be funny with a look, a gesture or a makeshift prop – sparking joy from nothing at all.

Sir Laurence Olivier said of Marilyn: ”Look at that face – she could be five years old.”

Photographers include: George Barris, Richard Avedon, Philippe Halsman, Milton Greene, Sam Shaw and Bert Stern.

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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and so do vets!

Pin-Ups for Vets

The Crest Theater in Westwood and Pin-Ups on Tour are co-hosting Blonde Bombshells: A Tribute to Screen Sirens on Saturday, March 7.

Billed as a celebration of Hollywood glamour, the night will feature blonde burlesque performers, a pin-ups bar, a raffle and a screening of the Marilyn Monroe classic “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953, Howard Hawks).

Proceeds from the event will benefit the non-profit Pin-Ups for Vets, which helps support hospitalized veterans and deployed troops. Since 2006, Pin-Ups for Vets has raised money for under-funded hospital programs that support America’s veterans and recovering military service members.

The program starts at 7 p.m. and the movie starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20. The Crest is at 1262 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90024. Built in 1940, the historic Crest Theater now specializes in interactive entertainment and film.

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Happy New Year, everyone!

Hope you had a decadent time bidding farewell to 2014 and that 2015 will be darkly delightful.

We took a little time off over the holidays to unplug and reconnect with family and friends. Now we’re back and looking forward to a new slate of noir news and events.

First up:  Wednesday, Jan. 7, is Fyodor Dostoyevsky night on TCM, featuring film versions of four dark Russian classics and the talents of film noir stalwart Robert Siodmak among many others.

Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner star in 1949’s “The Great Sinner,” directed by Robert Siodmak.

Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner star in 1949’s “The Great Sinner,” directed by Robert Siodmak.

(8 p.m. EST and 5 p.m. PST): “The Brothers Karamazov” (1958, Richard Brooks). An ultimate dysfunctional family – as portrayed by evil dad Lee J. Cobb and warring brothers Yul Brynner, Richard Basehart, William Shatner and Albert Salmi – clash in Brooks’ adaptation of what may be Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece. The beautiful Grushenka, the part that Marilyn Monroe (a big reader) called her dream role, is played here by Maria Schell.

10:45 p.m. (7:45 p.m.): “Crime and Punishment” (1935, Josef von Sternberg). With Peter Lorre, Edward Arnold and Marian Marsh. Reviewed in FNB on April 9, 2013.

12:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m.): “The Great Sinner” (1949, Robert Siodmak). In real life, Dostoyevsky was a compulsive gambler and this version of his tense short novel “The Gambler,” scripted by novelist Christopher Isherwood, stars Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Melvyn Douglas, Ethel Barrymore and Walter Huston. Reviewed in FNB on Sept. 11, 2014.

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “The Idiot”/ “Hakuchi” (1951, Akira Kurosawa). Kurosawa lovingly adapts his favorite writer’s famed novel, with a brilliant Japanese cast that includes Toshiro Mifune, Masayuki Mori (as Prince Myshkin, the “idiot”), Setsuko Hara and Takashi Shimura. (In Japanese, with subtitles.)

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Joyeux anniversaire, Brigitte Bardot!

Today, the French blonde bombshell, Brigitte Bardot, turns 80! As she put it: “It is sad to grow old but nice to ripen.”

BB was born Sept. 28, 1934.

BB was born Sept. 28, 1934.

Born into a comfortable Parisian home, Bardot studied music and dance at a young age and aspired to be a ballerina. She also pursued modeling, which led to her first film: 1952’s “Crazy for Love.”

In the mid-‘50s, she became, along with the U.S.’s Marilyn Monroe, the world’s reigning movie sexpot –  the always fetching and frequently undressed young star of a series of frothy French sex comedies, culminating in the international box-office triumph of Bardot’s and director Roger Vadim’s ultra-steamy erotic drama  “…And God Created Woman.”

If Monroe was the era’s instantly identifiable “M.M.,” Bardot was her equally recognizable French counterpart “B.B.”

Later, in the ‘60s, Bardot began working for more serious filmmakers, in more estimable projects, including “La Verite” (“The Truth”) (1960, Henri-Georges Clouzot, a film-noir master), “A Very Private Affair” (1962) and “Viva Maria!” (1965), both by Louis Malle, “Spirits of the Dead” (a 1968 omnibus film by Vadim, Malle and Federico Fellini), and her best film, the New Wave noirish classic “Le Mepris” (“Contempt”) (1963, Jean-Luc Godard).

Vadim was the first of four husbands. She has been married to Bernard d’Ormale since 1992.

She retired from movies in the 1970s; after leaving the world of filmmaking, she became an outspoken animal-rights activist. On her 50th birthday, in 1984, she told the London Times: “I have been very happy, very rich, very beautiful, much adulated, very famous and very unhappy.”

Before her 80th, she told the Times: “I only keep one man in mind, the next one.”

Here, we offer a photo tribute. To see recently discovered photos of BB as a teenager, click here.

BB -- in car

BB -- evening gown

BB -- polka dot

BB -- hat

BB -- plaid

BB -- pantsuit

BB -- boots

BB -- pink

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On the radar: Hollywood Redux exhibition in Santa Monica, film noir faves, remembering the blonde goddess

Love this photo of a (smiling!) Bogart & Bacall. Shot by Murray Garrett and on display at the Robert Berman Gallery in Santa Monica.

Love this photo of a (smiling!) Bogart & Bacall. Shot by Murray Garrett and on display at the Robert Berman Gallery in Santa Monica.

Murray Garrett: Hollywood Redux, a selection of black-and-white photographs including never-before-seen silver-gelatin prints from the artist’s archive, runs through Aug. 23 at the Robert Berman Gallery in Santa Monica. The Brooklyn-born Garrett, who worked in the Golden Age, typically used medium-format cameras, such as the Speed Graphic and Rolleiflex, to capture iconic moments from the lives of the entertainment industry’s elite and other popular figures of American culture and high society.

Taschen has released a must-read tome: Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites. From “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” to “Drive,” editors Paul Duncan and Jürgen Müller present their top film-noirs and neo-noirs. Director, film noir scholar and “Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader provides the introduction.

Also, Tuesday, Aug. 5 marks the 52nd anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death. RIP, Marilyn. See more images and read more about her life here.

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Remembering Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn was born June 1, 1926, Los Angeles.

Marilyn was born June 1, 1926, Los Angeles.

Happy birthday, Marilyn Monroe! She would have been 88 today.

Read more about her and see more photos here.

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Vive le Cherbourg! Deneuve dazzles! Go, Goldblum, go!

Umbrellas posterThe Umbrellas of Cherbourg/1964/91 min.

A visual confection. A musical with a vibe both joyful and pensive. Catherine Deneuve’s break-through role. Superb music by Michel Legrand. One of France’s most famous and highly regarded films, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” this year celebrates the 50th anniversary of its U.S. release.

Jacques Demy, a New Wave director, brings his distinctive vision to the movie musical resulting in a film that’s wistful and tender, exuberant and operatic. It’s a simple tale of harsh reality intruding on two gorgeous young lovers (Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo). Demy lends depth and resonance by conjuring a poetic mood and letting the story unfold at a meandering pace.

I imagine that watching Deneuve back in 1964 meant immediately recognizing her star power, perhaps like watching Marilyn Monroe (Deneuve’s favorite actress) in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” For Deneuve’s longtime admirers or those still discovering her, this lovely digital restoration is a must-see treat.

“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” opens Friday, March 14, at Landmark’s Nuart Theatre, showing through Thursday, March 20, for an exclusive one-week engagement. On March 14, at the 7:30 p.m. show, dance critic Debra Levine will talk with actor/dancer George Chakiris, who worked in collaboration with Demy, Deneuve and Legrand in 1967’s “The Young Girls of Rochefort.”

 

On My Way posterOn My Way/2014/Cohen Media Group/113 min.

Catherine Deneuve at 70 is just as captivating to watch, maybe more so, as when she was a teenager. Her natural elegance infuses “On My Way,” a road movie in which she plays Bettie, a provincial French restaurateur and long-ago beauty-pageant queen trying to recover after she is jilted by her lover.

Or as director/co-writer Emmanuelle Bercot says: “It is the story of a woman who goes out for a drive and repeatedly finds reasons not to go back home.” One thing that sidetracks her is the fact that her grandson (Nemo Schiffman) happens to needs a ride to the home of his paternal grandfather (Gérard Garouste). Bettie agrees to drive him, though she is not on particularly good terms with the boy or his mother (the singer Camille).

The film feels realistic (an oafish fellow traveler calls Bettie a dog) and sometimes implausible (there are a few plot holes to be overlooked). It’s also very charming (the cast includes many non-actors such as Garouste as well as a porcine farmer, who rolls a cigarette for Bettie as he tells her why he never married) and very French (a leisurely family gathering includes cooking, singing, squabbling, smoking and drinking a nice glass of wine).

With Deneueve in the driver’s seat, “On My Way” is a trip you’ll want to take.

“On My Way” opens Friday, March 14, in New York and Friday, March 21, in LA.

 

Le Week-End posterLe Week-End/2013/Music Box Films/93 min.

Jeff Goldblum provides a welcome burst of obnoxious energy in the dark(ish) “Le Week-End,” a British comedy/drama set in Paris. Directed by Roger Michell and written by Hanif Kureishi, the film stars Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent as an English couple who spend a few nights in the City of Lights to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary.

Celebrate, however, is not be quite the right word. The accumulated disappointments and frustrations of their three decades together have yielded a fair amount of friction between domineering Meg and Milquetoast Nick. As Meg points out, love can turn to hate like the flip of a switch. That said, a grudging but abiding affection seeps through Meg and Jim’s disillusioned, resentful exteriors – thanks to graceful acting from Duncan and Broadbent, and seamless direction from Michell.

Goldblum shines as Morgan, a smarmy New Yorker (now living in Paris with a much younger second wife), who knew Nick when they were students at Cambridge. In the years since, Morgan has seemingly achieved the success that has eluded Nick. A chance meeting on the street leads to a rekindling of the friendship.

Though I felt Duncan’s part was somewhat underwritten, “Le Week-End” is a sharp, unvarnished portrayal of a frayed relationship at a turning point in the world’s prettiest city.

“Le Week-End” opens Friday, March 14, at Landmark Theatres in West Los Angeles and at Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in New York.

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Golden Globes draws largest audience in 10 years

The Golden Globe Awards telecast is required viewing for us film and fashion junkies. The show drew its largest audience in 10 years and its largest young-adult audience in seven years, according to Variety. You can read the list of winners here.

Looks we loved: Cate Blanchett (the Best Actress in a Drama winner wore a lace Armani Prive gown), Mila Kunis, Lupita Nyong’o, Margot Robbie, Uma Thurman and Reese Witherspoon.

Trends we spotted: Bold lips, lots of eyeliner, stylishly messy waves, piecey buns and slicked-back up-do’s.

Surprises we savored: Matthew McConaughey’s win for Best Actor in a Drama; “12 Years A Slave” snaring Best Picture/Drama and Jacqueline Bisset’s bumbling acceptance speech when she won Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries or TV Movie.

Marilyn Monroe with the Golden Globe she won for 1959’s "Some Like It Hot."

Marilyn Monroe with the Golden Globe she won for 1959’s “Some Like It Hot.”

 

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Prescription for retro glamour: A look back at Schwab’s

Sunset b & wHeading to the West Hollywood Rite-Aid to do a little schmoozing? Not bloody likely. But, in Tinseltown’s golden age, Schwab’s Pharmacy, at 8024 Sunset Blvd., ranked as one of the city’s top spots to meet, greet, mix and mingle.

A program Saturday at the Egyptian Theatre highlighted the pivotal role Schwab’s played in Hollywood networking from the 1930s to the 1960s. Teacher/history buff Marc Chevalier delivered a photo-driven presentation, followed by a short that was filmed at Schwab’s to promote a 1946 bio-pic, “The Jolson Story,” and the exquisite movie “Sunset Blvd.” (1950, Billy Wilder), which features the drugstore in a key scene.

Chevalier started his talk with a cherchez la femme angle. The property – on the south side of Sunset Boulevard, between Laurel Avenue and Crescent Heights – first belonged to Dr. George E. Paddleford and his wife, Genevieve McKinney Toomey Teal Paddleford, a “international adventuress and love pirate,” with a string of duped husbands.

The Sunset Medical Building complex opened its doors in 1931.

The Sunset Medical Building in the 1930s. Schwab’s was to the right of the window awning (far right).

The Paddlefords owned lots 1, 2 and 29 of the Crescent Heights tract and built a mansion on lot 2. Fond of giving Dr. Paddleford’s expensive cuff links and other valuable belongings to her lovers, Genevieve drew her husband’s ire and the couple divorced around 1920. She left for Europe where she continued to live the high life, charm men, court scandal, oh and steal stuff from Ritz-Carlton hotels.

Dr. Paddleford (an associate of oil magnate Edward L. Doheny) sold the property and in 1931 architects Alvan Norstrom and Milton Anderson designed the Sunset Medical Building for developers C.H. Thomsen and W.L. Easley. The year before, for the same developers, Norstrom and Anderson designed a building directly across the street. It’s in use today as the Laugh Factory and Greenblatt’s Deli.

Schwab’s was a place to see and be seen.

Schwab’s was a place to see and be seen.

Despite the prosaic name (it became known as the Crescent Heights Shopping Center and later simply “The Corner”), the new building turned out to be a modern-day palace. Its front and side facades were clad in dark tan marble from Southern France and trimmed in rosso levanto Italian marble. (At the time, the only other commercial structure in Los Angeles that boasted so much marble was downtown’s Merritt Building from 1915.) Inside The Corner, rooms were paneled and floored in mahogany; some had terrazzo marble floors. Doctors’ and dentists’ offices were on the second level. A covered-bridge walkway allowed patients to cross from one wing to another. The back court had a 30-space parking lot.

Nearby was the Spanish-Moorish style Garden of Allah apartment complex, originally owned by actress Alla Nazimova in 1919; the Garden was torn down in 1959. Many residents from this chic residence supported businesses at The Corner.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was among the notable residents at the Garden of Allah.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was among the notable residents at the Garden of Allah.

Norstrom and Anderson’s marble stunner housed several merchants on the ground floor, including Richard Talmadge, former actor and stuntman for Douglas Fairbanks, who ran a flower shop, and the owner of the Crescent Heights Market, Ben Ruben, known for insulting his customers at no extra charge. Howard Hughes treated his girlfriends to makeovers at the beauty salon.

In 1932, the Schwab brothers (Bernard, Leon, Jack and Martin) took over a failing drugstore in the complex; they would eventually own six pharmacies. But Schwab’s on Sunset wasn’t just a place to drop off a prescription or buy toiletries. Open from 7 a.m. to midnight, the gathering spot served meals as well as soda-fountain drinks. The store had five phone booths and frequently offered automatic credit. Customers could also buy high-end liquor, tobacco, chocolate, perfume and cosmetics. There was no charge for deliveries.

Billy Wilder filmed the Schwab’s  scene at Paramount.

Billy Wilder filmed the Schwab’s scene at Paramount.

In the movie “Sunset Blvd.,” William Holden’s character, a struggling screenwriter named Joe Gillis, tells us the pharmacy is his headquarters, explaining: “That’s the way a lot of us think about Schwab’s. Kind of a combination office, coffee klatch and waiting room. Waiting, waiting for the gravy train.” (Though it would seem the ideal location shoot, Wilder had the interior recreated and filmed on a Paramount lot.)

Arguably, what made Schwab’s the place to network and nosh was the fact that journalist/actor/producer Sidney Skolsky wrote his Photoplay column “From a Stool at Schwab’s” in a second-floor office, by arrangement with the Schwab family.

Sidney Skolsky and Marilyn Monroe attend an industry function.

Sidney Skolsky and Marilyn Monroe attend an industry function.

Among Skolsky’s many talents was a knack for nicknames and he dubbed the drugstore Schwabadero’s, an allusion to the Trocadero nightclub down the street. (Even more famously, in 1934, he was the first journalist to write a story using Oscar to refer to the Academy Award.) As a producer on the 1946 movie “The Jolson Story,” it was Skolsky’s idea to shoot the after-party at Schwab’s and use the footage as a publicity short.

Robert Mitchum, Clark Gable, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mickey Cohen, Gloria Swanson, Judy Garland, the Marx Brothers, Cesar Romero and Shelley Winters were regular Schwabadero’s customers. Marilyn Monroe, another loyal patron, reportedly left messages for Skolsky, under the name Miss Caswell. Charlie Chaplin and Ava Gardner stopped in and made their own milkshakes.

Though it’s widely thought that Lana Turner was discovered sipping a soda at Schwab’s, in fact it was at the Top Hat malt shop, several blocks east on Sunset, that in 1937, at age 16, she attracted the attention of Hollywood Reporter publisher William Wilkerson.

Debunking the myth: Lana Turner was discovered at a malt shop down the street from Schwab’s.

Lana Turner was discovered at a malt shop down the street from Schwab’s.

By the time Schwab’s had its closeup in “Sunset Blvd.,” Russian immigrant/Beverly Hills businessman Martin Belousoff owned the property. In 1949, Googie’s coffee shop, designed by architect John Lautner in Space Age/midcentury modern style, was built nearby and served customers such as James Dean, Marlon Brando and beat-generation poets. (Googie’s lasted until 1989.)

Compared with Googie’s, Schwab’s looked passé and in 1955 Belousoff decided to remodel inside and out, commissioning architects Louis Armet and Eldon Davis for the job. But not long after Schwab’s updated, new Sunset Strip venues were opening up and gaining popularity with aspiring stars and ’60s hipsters.

Schwab’s, which had been in business for 50 years and earned worldwide fame as a Hollywood hive of activity, closed its doors in 1983 and was torn down in 1988. But it remains Hollyood’s most famous drugstore – a legendary place to sip sodas, schmooze, spot stars and, like many a prospective Lana Turner, strut your stuff.

Schwab's was open from 7 a.m. to midnight.

Schwab’s was open from 7 a.m. to midnight.

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