Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Temple Tuesday: Shirley and Cher

This post is a Shirley sandwich; two Temples wrapped around a Cher filling.

On October 14, 1940 “The Littlest Rebel” was dramatized as an hour-long play for Lux Radio Theater, with Shirley Temple (five years older than when she made the movie), Claude Rains, and Preston Foster. The radio show was performed in front of a weekly studio audience at the Lux Radio Playhouse located at 1615 North Vine Street in Hollywood.

I had vague knowledge that the theatre still existed, but never dug further to find out exactly where it was…until (here comes the Cher filling) I learned it was connected to one of my semi-guilty cinematic pleasures: “Burlesque.” Released in 2010, the film did well at the box office but was panned by critics for being clichéd. I agree that the dialogue doesn’t win any literary awards, but the performances are solid, the set design and cinematography are fantastic, and the musical numbers are off the charts. So there. Give it a break. The exterior location that was used as the Burlesque club that Cher owns in the movie is the (former) CBS Radio Playhouse, now known as the Montalbán Theatre.

The Beaux-Arts building (designed by architects Myron Hunt and H.C. Chambers) opened January 19, 1927 as “Wilkes’ Vine Street Theatre.” In March 1931, the theater was converted to a movie house, titled “Mirror Theatre,” part of a chain run by Howard Hughes and Harold B. Franklin. That company soon fell apart, and by the mid 1930s, the theatre was operating under the name “Studio Theatre.” CBS bought the theatre in 1936 and converted it to a live performance radio auditorium and radio studio for local affiliate KNX, under the name “CBS Radio Playhouse.” CBS’s Lux Radio Theatre moved there from New York that year (which is why some sources give the theatre’s name as Lux Radio Playhouse). This popular anthology show featured radio adaptations of stage plays and film scripts performed by well-known actors in front of a live audience; Cecil B. DeMille was for many years its producer and host. This was when Shirley performed “Rebel” there.

A&P heir and arts patron Huntington Hartford bought the theatre from CBS in 1953 and re-opened it as the “Huntington Hartford Theatre.” Hartford ran the theater successfully for ten years with high-profile productions featuring the biggest stars of the era, but he eventually lost interest in patronizing the arts and sold it to James Doolittle, who renamed it the “Doolittle Theatre.” Doolittle ran the theatre successfully for 20 years, after which it was acquired by UCLA. In 1999, the Ricardo Montalbán Foundation bought the theatre and re-opened it as “Ricardo Montalbán Theatre” in 2004. Which brings us to “Burlesque.”

In the film, Ali (Christina Aguilera) comes to Hollywood with dreams of stardom. After pounding the pavement and failing to get discovered, she stumbles upon something that makes her stop cold.

Just in case you weren’t sure that this is a mystical turning point in the film, there’s plenty of fog to clue you in.

Lo and behold, it’s the Burlesque Lounge.

Little Ali is like Alice in Wonderland; she must check out this rabbit hole!

I combined a few frames from a pan shot in the movie to get this image:

How the same area looks today:

If you’re looking for the location where Cher has a catfight with Kristen Bell in a parking lot (shown below), you’re too late. The parking lot is now a multi-level parking garage.

One more shot of the exterior for you. I parked illegally on a Friday afternoon in Hollywood just to get these photos with my dog barking up a storm as he waited not-so-patiently. The things I do for Temple Tuesdays!

While doing some research for this post, I stumbled upon a fun 10th anniversary article about “Burlesque” on the Entertainment Weekly website. Here are some of the highlights:

STEVEN ANTIN (writer-director): My sister…had a show that she created at the Viper Room [for] the Pussycat Dolls. They were becoming a popular thing, so she decided to do a bigger show at the Roxy.…I wrote a story for her show that loosely weaved together their musical numbers. The show exploded.…I got some cameras and shot the show over a few nights and edited together a little movie. That was the genesis.

AGUILERA: I wanted to make sure Burlesque felt right before confirming, so it was important to meet Steven in person. His warm and genuine nature encouraged me to confirm, along with him interweaving so many pieces of my love for Etta James [into the script], knowing my personal passion for Burlesque [on] my Back to Basics album, and also [with me having] performed in the original Pussycat Dolls stage show at the Roxy.

ANTIN: For the role of Ali, we wanted an actress with a very big voice. Christina was the choice. The role of Tess could’ve gone several ways. At first, I was interested in Queen Latifah or Michelle Pfeiffer. But Clint came up with and loved the idea of Cher. Amy really wanted Cher, and so did Clint. I liked the idea, too. So did Christina. I mean, hello. Cher. Enough said…. Cher was on a soundstage doing a voiceover for “Zookeeper.” Clint heard she was there. We camped outside of the stage and waited for her to exit. When she did, we introduced ourselves.

CLINT CULPEPPER (Screen Gems studio president): Cher called me to say she was on the lot [on a different stage] rehearsing her Vegas act, and to drop by. So, I did. Christina was on the other side of the lot rehearsing. I’d told Cher that Christina loved her so much: “You don’t understand, this chick would drink your bathwater!” Cher started laughing hysterically and said, "Well, I hope that doesn't become necessary!” When we met Cher, Christina was holding her kid on her hip, and we walked over…. Cher [saw us] and went, “Ok, everybody, take five!” It was so cute. Christina stuck her hand out and said “Hi, I'm Christina, the one who would drink your bathwater.” Cher grabbed her and gave her a big hug and a kiss.

AGUILERA: Cher definitely felt like my mama bear during shooting. In my experience of meeting and working with some of the greatest legends, the best ones usually are that way. They look out for you in a real way, and it was an honor to work alongside Cher. She gave me some good advice, shared some personal insight and stories on love, and also encouragement along the way when I needed to hear it! There were a few scenes we shared where I learned from her that being a supportive costar really helps to create something special, and motivating each other is what makes for a great outcome.

CHER: One of my favorite scenes is when I was helping Christina with her makeup. It was all very spontaneous. It reminded me of when I was a young girl and my mom and all her friends would put on makeup together.

Back to Shirley. What did she do after her 1940 “Littlest Rebel” radio performance? Celebrate at the Brown Derby with a milkshake!

See more Hollywood photos at my main website.

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