True Hollywood Noir probes legendary Tinseltown mysteries

True Hollywood NoirLana Turner was the quintessential film noir blonde,” says author Dina Di Mambro in her new book, True Hollywood Noir: Filmland Mysteries and Murders, pointing to Turner’s standout part as Cora in “The Postman Always Rings Twice.”

The actress’s real life was no less fascinating than any of the roles she portrayed on the screen, says Di Mambro, setting up the chapter on Turner and the 1958 fatal stabbing of her boyfriend Johnny Stompanato.

A coroner’s inquest jury found the act (by Turner’s teenage daughter Cheryl Crane) to be justifiable homicide but there has long been speculation that Turner herself did the deed. In probing that theory, film historian and entertainment writer Di Mambro offers “the story you haven’t heard.”

Author Dina Di Mambro

Author Dina Di Mambro

It’s one of 12 stories Di Mambro explores in her book; the others are: William Desmond Taylor, Thomas H. Ince, Jean Harlow, Thelma Todd, Joan Bennett (and the shooting of Jennings Lang), George Reeves, Bob Crane, Gig Young, Natalie Wood, Robert Blake and death of his wife Bonnie Lee Bakley). The finale, as it were, is a lengthy chapter on gangster Mickey Cohen.

Says Di Mambro in the book: “The West Coast mob, city corruption and Hollywood mysteries were often intertwined. This is a common thread through much of this book. … Many of the plots of the noir films were taken from actual happenings in the underworld.”

Di Mambro presents her facts in a straightforward, no-nonsense style, leaving the reader to decide which theory is most likely. Replete with vintage photos, the book clocks in at 230 pages, making it a pretty fast read cover to cover. It’s also a great reference volume if you prefer to dip in one grisly cold case at a time.

We at FNB especially like the fact that Di Mambro includes in her acknowledgements her “muse,” meaning her cat Sunny, who supervised the writing process. Nothing like a regal kitty to tap a true-crime scribe vibe.

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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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Author Tere Tereba to highlight Mickey Cohen’s Hollywood connections, real-life Gangster Squad

Pegged to Friday’s release of “Gangster Squad,” Tere Tereba, author of “Mickey Cohen-the Life and Crimes Of L.A.’s Notorious Mobster,” will read and sign books at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, January 16 at Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood, 6644 Hollywood Blvd., 323-463-3273.

Tere will discuss Cohen and and his Hollywood connections, such as Lana Turner, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra. She’ll also share rare photographs and talk about the real-life Gangster Squad.

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‘Gangster Squad’ goes for gorgeous gloss over true grit

Gangster Squad/2013/Warner Bros./113 min.

The much-hyped new neo-noir “Gangster Squad,” set in 1949 Los Angeles, falls prey to the same stereotypical failing that marks some Angelinos, then and now: It’s a wannabe. On the plus side, the movie is glossy looking and elegantly styled (many famous locations, from Slapsy Maxie’s to Clifton’s Cafeteria, are stunningly presented) with a star-studded cast.

Directed by Ruben Fleischer, there’s action aplenty, though it never feels like there’s much at stake. And its superficial, often cartoonish, virtues are undercut by a weak script, uneven performances and tepid emotion.

That’s too bad, given the long-standing allure of vintage LA and the fascinating source material for the film: Paul Lieberman’s crime saga, “Gangster Squad: Covert Cops, the Mob, and the Battle for Los Angeles,” which was based on the work of a secret LAPD unit that aimed to guard the city against gangsters. (The book began as a 2008 LA Times series.)

Their primary target: the ruthless and immensely powerful mob leader Mickey Cohen, portrayed in the film by Sean Penn. Josh Brolin plays ambitious good cop Sgt. John O’Mara (married and devoted to his wife); Ryan Gosling turns in another spare, cool performance as the wayward Sgt. Jerry Wooters who tangles with Cohen’s supposed mistress (Emma Stone). A growling, leonine Nick Nolte as police chief William H. Parker must muddle through lines like this one, addressed to O’Mara: “Los Angeles is a damsel in distress. And I need you to save her.”

Penn’s Cohen has similar clunkers. He tells us: “Back east, I was a gangster, out here I’m God.”

The strong cast does what it can, with Brolin, Gosling and Stone making the best of what they are given. But, thanks to Will Beall’s cliche-ridden script, Nolte starts to get mannered and Penn gives us a 2-D Cohen, unrelentingly brutal and ever-menacing. As talented as Penn is, he doesn’t seem to connect with this character and physically he’s an odd choice to play a brawny baby-faced former boxer. In 1949, Cohen was 36; Penn is 52. And if you know much of Cohen’s backstory (he avoided sex because of his OCD disorder), it’s hard to buy into the love-triangle element of this story, which is only very loosely based on fact.

“L.A. Confidential” this is not. But if you fancy gorging on some glitzy eye candy, this should do nicely.

“Gangster Squad” opens today nationwide. You can read author Tere Tereba’s piece Beyond the Gangster Squad: the Real Mickey Cohen here. Tere’s book on Cohen was selected  by KCET as one of the best books of 2012. 

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A few of FNB’s fave posts from 2012

Happy 2013, all! Here’s a look at FNB highlights from 2012.

Marilyn Monroe shot by Bert Stern

Top 10 FNB posts (misc.)

Remembering Beth Short, the Black Dahlia, on the 65th anniversary of her death

TCM festival in Hollywood

Interview with Tere Tereba, author of “Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.’s Notorious Mobster”

Marilyn Monroe birthday tribute

Marilyn Monroe exhibit in Hollywood

Film noir feline stars: The cat in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers”

Famous injuries in film noir, coinciding with my fractured toe, or broken foot, depending on how dramatic I am feeling

Panel event on author Georges Simenon with director William Friedkin

History Channel announcement: FNB to curate film noir shop page

Retro restaurant reviews: Russell’s in Pasadena

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REVIEWS: 2012 neo-noirs or films with elements of noir

Crossfire Hurricane” documentary

Hitchcock

Holy Motors

Killing Them Softly

Momo: The Sam Giancana Story” documentary

Polisse

Rust and Bone

Searching for Sugar Man” documentary

Unforgivable

Wuthering Heights

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REVIEWS: Classic film noir

Anatomy of a Murder

Criss Cross

Decoy

Gilda

Gun Crazy

Murder, My Sweet

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Possessed

Sunset Blvd.

They Drive By Night

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REVIEWS: Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Dial M for Murder

The Lady Vanishes

Marnie

Notorious

The 39 Steps

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Tere Tereba welcomes a surprise special guest to Book Soup

“He was LA’s top mobster for a generation. You don’t get more outrageous and brazen than Mickey Cohen,” says author Tere Tereba. “He was the ultimate anti-hero because he did what he wanted to do. He went against the cops, he fought city hall. He did all the things you’re not supposed to do and everybody’s afraid to do. Even his showy style of doing business. He dressed the way he wanted to, in a semi-Zoot suit. He knew what he liked and he followed it.”

Earlier this year, Tereba published the acclaimed book “Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.’s Notorious Mobster” outlining the history of the man and the city, from Prohibition to the mid ’70s. This Friday, Sept. 28, she welcomes a surprise special guest to her reading and signing at Book Soup on Sunset Boulevard, which was Cohen’s turf in his heyday.

Oh, and drinks will be served!  Zoot suits optional.

The event starts at 7 p.m. at Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood/Los Angeles, CA 90069; 310-659-3110.

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For author Tere Tereba, mobster Mickey Cohen is the ultimate anti-hero and the story of Los Angeles

Of America’s many grand and gaudy cities, Los Angeles has long been the ultimate siren.

This is the noir metropolis, both sunny and sordid, that gangster Mickey Cohen made completely his own. Brooklyn-born and LA-raised, Cohen as a young adult was uneducated, illiterate and had difficulty counting. But he was smart, tough, ambitious, ruthless, immoral and wildly lucky.

Model/designer/author Tere Tereba shot by Moshe Brakha

He was also the ne plus ultra dreamer, lured by seemingly limitless opportunity to reinvent himself by acquiring staggering amounts of money and clout. It’s hard to imagine his rise from grubby paper boy to one of the most prominent figures in the underworld taking place anywhere but the City of Angels.

Indeed for author Tere Tereba, Cohen is Los Angeles. Her book “Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.’s Notorious Mobster” (ECW, $16.95 paperback/$29.95 hardcover) outlines the history of the man and the city, from Prohibition to the mid ’70s. “He was LA’s top mobster for a generation,” Tereba recently told me over a glass of iced tea in her elegant living room.

“He terrorized, captivated and corrupted Los Angeles. He’s about to be introduced to the American public through ‘Gangster Squad’ (the upcoming movie in which Sean Penn plays Cohen) and people don’t know who Mickey Cohen really was.”

Tereba, an award-winning fashion designer and journalist, is a quintessential Angelino. Born in Warren, Ohio, she has lived here since childhood. As a teenager, Tereba frequently saw bands at Sunset Strip clubs and connected with Jim Morrison’s girlfriend, Pamela Courson, who jump-started her design career.

Tere Tereba shot by George Hurrell

Tereba’s account of Morrison in Paris was selected by The Doors to appear in their book, The Doors: An Illustrated History. In addition to her creative talent, Tereba’s classic features and stop-and-stare bone structure drew much attention, from the likes of famed Hollywood photographer George Hurrell for whom she modeled and Andy Warhol, who cast her in his 1977 black comedy “Bad.” Warhol described Tereba as looking like Hedy Lamarr and acting like Lucille Ball.

The day I met her, she wore a chic black dress, a vintage shrimp-pin and zebra-stripe pumps. “I could put on one of my Irene suits, if you want,” she offered, with a laugh.

Tereba’s book renders a portrait of a complex and compelling man in a city ripe with chances to strike it big, especially for unscrupulous players. Of Cohen’s return to the West Coast in 1937 after a stint in Cleveland and Chicago, Tereba writes: “He found Los Angeles to still be a big small town. The underworld setup, the 23-year-old learned, was not the eastern system.” Or as Cohen put it, “Gambling and everything … was completely run by cops and stool pigeons.”

Fast forward to the fall of 1955, when Cohen, 42, was released from McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary. Tereba describes Cohen’s turf this way: “The land of perpetual summer, carnal delights, and blue-sky ennui still captured the imagination of dreamers everywhere. But L.A. had changed. Bigger and bolder than ever, freeways linked the suburban sprawl. Hollywood’s old guard had lost their luster; a new and different breed was on the horizon.”

Tere Tereba shot by Paul Jasmin

Speaking of Hollywood, Tereba’s book explores the intersection between mafia characters and the Tinseltown elite, such as the 1958 fatal stabbing of Johnny Stompanato by Lana Turner’s daughter, Cheryl Crane.

Until Cohen’s death on July 29, 1976 (he died in his sleep, having survived 11 assassination attempts over the years), the brawny former boxer lived each moment intensely, often courting publicity and flaunting his power.

Said Tereba during our interview: “He was the ultimate anti-hero because he did what he wanted to do. He went against the cops, he fought city hall. He did all the things you’re not supposed to do and everybody’s afraid to do.

“You don’t get more outrageous and brazen than Mickey Cohen. Even his showy style of doing business. He dressed the way he wanted to, in a semi-Zoot suit. He knew what he liked and he followed it.”

Some facts are already well known. In setting the scene, Tereba reminds the reader: “After the [1938] scandal decimated the LAPD, the city of Los Angeles was closed to underworld activity. But Los Angeles County remained wide open.

Tere Tereba shot by Moshe Brakha

“Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz’s mighty domain stretched from Lancaster in the north to Catalina Island, 26 miles off the coast, south to Orange County, and east to San Bernadino County – from the desert to the mountains to the sea.

“Geographically the largest county in the country, at more than 4,000 square miles, it was bigger than many eastern states and made up 43 percent of the state’s population.”

She also reveals never-before-released documents and information, such as the anxiety disorder Cohen struggled with for most of his life, his wife LaVonne’s unsavory background and his relationships with women after he and LaVonne divorced in 1958.

Much has been written, speculated, invented and whitewashed about Cohen and his city. Tereba spent more than 10 years researching and writing her book; she tells Cohen’s story swiftly and assuredly. Her page-turning and entertaining narrative neither glamorizes nor judges its subject.

Mickey Cohen

By the time “Gangster Squad” hits screens this fall and plants Mickey Cohen firmly in the spotlight (which he would have loved) Tereba’s readers will have already pierced through the shadows that have shrouded him for decades.

Tereba will discuss and sign her book at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 14, at Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, 90027.

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Book these dates with noir authors in Hollywood

5 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at Larry Edmunds Bookshop, 6644 Hollywood Blvd.
Noir historians Alain Silver and James Ursini will discuss and sign their book “Film Noir: The Directors” (Limelight Editions, $24.99).

A number of authors have contributed to this work and there are chapters on: Robert Aldrich, John Brahm, Jules Dassin, André de Toth, Edward Dmytryk, John Farrow, Felix Feist, Sam Fuller, Henry Hathaway, Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, Fritz Lang, Joseph H. Lewis, Joseph Losey, Ida Lupino, Anthony Mann, Max Ophuls, Gerd Oswald, Otto Preminger, Nicholas Ray, Don Siegel, Robert Siodmak, Jacques Tourneur, Edgar G. Ulmer, Raoul Walsh, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder and Robert Wise. The book also features more than 500 photographs.

Given the inclusion of Ophuls (“Letter from an Unknown Woman”), it seems really odd that Howard Hawks, Richard Fleischer and Stanley Kubrick were excluded. That’s one for the Q&A with the authors.

6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at the Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd.
Actress Julie Adams who will sign “Reflections from the Black Lagoon” (Hollywood Adventures, $29.95) in the lobby prior to that evening’s Noir City Hollywood double bill of “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” (in which she stars) and “Edge of the City.” There will be a Q&A with Adams, 85, between the films.

6 -11 p.m. Monday, April 30, at Musso & Frank Grill, 6667 Hollywood Blvd.
The Los Angeles Visionaries Association and Esotouric Tours are hosting a literary salon featuring author John Buntin and his 2009 book, “L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City” (Price varies by format, starting at about $10).

Buntin’s book interweaves two stories, that of gangster Mickey Cohen and police chief William Parker. Tickets to the salon are $100 and include a three-course meal. TNT is developing a new series based on this book.

Additionally, I just got my review copy of “Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.’s Most Notorious Mobster” by Tere Tereba (ECW Press, $16.95). Looking forward to reading this and interviewing the author.

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