Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Return of Myrna

In 2005, I was making one of my frequent trips to L.A. and decided to visit Venice High School, which was the setting for Rydell High School in “Grease” (1978). Well, there were actually two other High Schools used for Rydell, but that’s another story...not the one for today. When watching the movie, I noticed something was missing.

The fountain and statuary in front of the school.

It turns out that the model for the centerpiece of the original statue was none other than Hollywood legend, Myrna Loy.

From the Hometowns Hollywood website:

Loy’s father died on November 7, 1918, of Spanish influenza. Upon his passing, the family permanently relocated to California, where they settled in Culver City. Loy attended the exclusive Westlake School for Girls in Holmby Hills and continued to study dance in Downtown Los Angeles. When her teachers objected to her participating in theatrical arts, her mother transferred her to Venice High School, and at 15, she began appearing in local stage productions. In 1921, Loy posed for Venice High School sculpture teacher Harry Fielding Winebrenner for the central figure “Inspiration” in his allegorical sculpture group Fountain of Education [Two other students posed for the kneeling man and seated woman]. Completed in 1922, the sculpture group was situated in front of the campus outdoor pool in May 1923, where it would stand for decades. A few months later, Loy’s “Inspiration” figure was temporarily removed from the sculpture group and transported aboard the battleship Nevada for a Memorial Day pageant in which “Miss Myrna Williams” participated.

If the buildings behind the Loy statue look different, that’s because they are. On March 10, 1933, the Long Beach Earthquake critically damaged the 1924-built school, and it was subsequently torn down. For two years, classes had to be held in tents until the replacement school was built. On January 22, 1935, ground was broken for the art deco styled buildings that still stand today. 

Back to the Hometowns Hollywood website:

While the statue had miraculously survived the 1933 earthquake, its story took a turn for the worse decades later. Over the years, the statue of Loy outside of Venice High School in Los Angeles became not only a landmark after Loy became famous, but an object of vandalism from neighboring schools, especially University High. It was customary prior to the Venice-Uni football game for students from Uni to throw paint on or otherwise vandalize the statue. When I was a student at Venice, legend had it that one year, a group of students from Uni actually removed the statue and drove it in a truck to Santa Monica pier where they threw it over the side and into the water. Not surprisingly, damage took its toll.

In the above photo, the sign in the pond says, “NOTICE: ANY ONE TAKING PLANTS OR FISH WILL BE PROSECUTED.” What about the statues?!? I believe this lack of attention/respect to Myrna is what caused the events that followed!

In 1978, the sculpture was mutilated by vandals with heads and arms removed. They were restored in 1980 by William Van Orden, a Venice painter and sculpture. However, he reconfigured the arms to make them less accessible to vandals. So sad; what is wrong with people?!?

The caption for the above photo from Calisphere:

Dying Sculptor Races Against Time and Vandals ... The architectural centerpiece of the Venice High School campus is a giant iron cage inside which can be glimpsed an old man clambering laboriously over a temporary scaffold ... The cage, recently built, is a monument to the persistence of the man, William Van Orden, a sculptor who has given the last 10 years of his life to restoring the statue in the cage ... The 7-foot-tall statue of Venus rising from the sea, accompanied by two male figures, was sculptured by a Venice High School teacher, Harry Winebrenner, in the 1920's, and a 16-year-old student, Myrna Williams, was his model"--New York Times, June 12, 1989. William Van Orden, repairing statue in Venice High School. Photograph dated Oct. 17, 1980.

Van Order’s LA Times April 4, 1990 obituary:

William Van Orden, the sculptor known for his meticulous restorations of Venice High School’s statue of actress Myrna Loy after numerous assaults on it by vandals, has died at 67. Van Orden, who completed his 12th restoration of the statue despite ill health and waning strength, died of cancer March 18 at a nursing home. Over the years, Van Orden worked thousands of hours repairing the Loy statue and two other statues at the entrance of the campus that were the target of countless pranks and acts of vandalism. “They call me the Don Quixote of Venice,” he said in a Times article last year. “They don’t realize that I take that as a compliment. Myrna is my windmill.” Van Orden was honored in June by Venice High School students at a dedication ceremony for the newly restored statue, which is now enclosed in a protective iron cage. He was also awarded a proclamation from the city. The Myrna Loy statue first came to Van Orden’s attention after vandals in 1978 used dynamite to blow off its head and arms. A year later, Van Orden drove by and saw the damaged statue and, grabbing a tool box, began making repairs. “I took out my chisel and mallet and started hammering on it when the principal came out and asked me, ‘What are you doing?’ ” he told The Times. “I said, ‘I’m here to fix the statue.’ ” The Venice artist began his most recent restoration about a year ago after vandals battered the heads of all three statues. Van Orden again rushed in to do repairs, but this time, he said, he did not believe he would live to finish the job. Doctors had told the artist that his death was imminent. “I decided not to abandon her,” he said at the time. “I had to return one more time. This is my life’s work, and after I finish this job I feel I can pass the job on to someone else.” But Van Orden managed to complete the restoration of the 7-foot-tall statue of Loy, which is a depiction of the goddess Venus rising from the sea. It was sculpted in the 1920s by Harry Winebrenner, a nationally known sculptor who also taught art at Venice High School. He chose as his model a 16-year-old art student named Myrna Williams, who later gained fame on the screen as Myrna Loy. Van Orden received an outpouring of support and national attention following news reports about his efforts to preserve the statue. “He wanted so much to see it declared a historical landmark so it could be protected and preserved from future damage,” said Rodan Van Orden, the artist’s 19-year-old son. Van Orden said his father never felt he received the recognition he deserved from his work on the statue. “You know he was a fine artist, a good painter.” At Venice High School, officials and students were saddened by Van Orden’s death. “He always had time to sit and talk with the students. He touched a lot of lives here,” said Sharon Gebhart, the school improvement coordinator.

After decades of exposure to the elements and vandalism, the original concrete statue was removed from display in 2002 (which is why it wasn’t there when I visited in 2005). The original statue was replaced in 2010 by a bronze duplicate paid for through an alumni-led fundraising campaign during a highly-publicized ceremony.

And here’s how it looked on my visit last weekend:

Myrna looks great from all angles:

The accompanying plaque:

While I am very glad that Myrna has returned, it seems a bit sad that the fountain and other two figures were lost in the process. The water that original cascaded down her arms is gone, and now she just stands there solo. Hopefully one day the rest of the original art installation can be returned. Right now, Myrna just seems to be a bit out of context.

See more Venice High School photos at my main website.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Temple Tuesday: Shirley and Claude

Picture this: March 14, 1947. A very glamorous Shirley Temple descends the staircase of her Brentwood home, ready to attend the Oscars. That evening, she gave Claude Jarman, Jr. a special Juvenile Performance Oscar for  “The Yearling” (1946). This was the same award she had received at the 1934 ceremonies, held in 1935. From the vintage publicity blurb:

HOLLYWOOD, MARCH 14 — YOUNG ACTOR WINS SPECIAL AWARD — Claude Jarman, Jr., 12-year-old Tennessee boy who played Jody in The Yearling,” gets a special award, presented by Shirley Temple, as “Oscars” were passed out last night in the Annual Academy Award Presentations.

The gown Shirley wore that night came up for auction in 1945:

From the catalog description:

Of black silk with constructed darts, and cord lacing at the front bodice, full-length net and tulle gathered skirt, decorated with double-tiered cutwork ruffles at the bodice and hips. The dress was worn by Shirley Temple during the mid-1940s, on one occasion during her presentation of the Academy Juvenile Actor Award to Claude Jarman, Jr. in 1946 for his performance in “The Yearling,”an award which Shirley herself had been the first to win in 1934.

Below, Shirley is sandwiched between Harold Russell and Claude, in what appears to be a slightly uncomfortable shot for her. Her brain was saying, “Social Distance!” Russell was a WWII veteran who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946). He holds the distinction of being the first non-professional actor to win an Oscar, as well as the only person to win two Oscars for the same role. Doubtful that he would win, the board of governors wanted to salute Russell regardless; earlier in the evening he was given an honorary Oscar for “bringing aid to disabled veterans through the medium of motion pictures.”

In 1992, Russell sold his Best Supporting Actor Oscar sold to a private collector for $60,500, saying he needed money for his wife’s medical expenses (he did retain his special Oscar). After Russell died, the unidentified collector was revealed to be Lew Wasserman, studio executive and talent agent (“The Last of the Legendary Movie Moguls”), who donated it back to the Academy.

What became of Jarman? He left Hollywood behind in his early twenties and went to college at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. He made one more movie in 1956 (Disney’s “The Great Locomotive Chase”) and was in the “Centennial” miniseries on TV (1978), portraying struggling farmer Earl Grebe. For the most part, he went behind the cameras in the biz, running the San Francisco International Film Festival (1965-1980) and creating a number of documentaries. As of this post, he is eighty-eight years old.

Above, a shot of Shirley with then husband John Agar at the Oscars, which were held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, shown below in 2014:

Watch the silent Pathé News highlight footage from March 1947:

See more Shirley Temple teen photos at my main website.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Murder Mystery Monday

By the fall of 1963, Karyn Kupcinet was an actress with a somewhat successful career that had  begun to tank, thanks to her abuse of diet pills, drugs, and booze. Not a good combo. And oh yes...that little shoplifting incident. Her relationship with actor Andrew Prine was also headed south; he saw the red flags and already had another girlfriend, which only served to make Karyn become more cuckoo. From the vintage publicity blurb that accompanied the above photo:

December 2, 1963—HOLLYWOOD, CALIF.: Police said here 12/2 that actor Andrew Prine and the late actress Karyn Kupcinet (shown together in an 10/63 photo) had both received a number of letters threatening their lives. Miss Kupcinet, daughter of newspaper columnist Irv Kupcinet, was found dead in her apartment 11/30. Authorities said she had been dead for “two or three days.” She was 22.

Turns out Kupcinet had created those threatening letters herself. Yup. Cuckoo.

The night before her death, Kupcinet had dined with actor Mark Goddard (“Lost in Space”) and his wife Marcia.

HOLLYWOOD, December 1, 1963: DISCOVERED ACTRESS’ BODY—Actor Mark Goddard and wife Marcia wait at a Hollywood police station today to tell detectives details of how they happened to find the strangled body of actress Karyn Kupcinet in her Hollywood apartment last night. The pair said they were friends of the actress and went to her apartment because they had not heard from her for several days.

I can’t help but notice the black gloves on Marcia; and Goddard’s cup of java and a cig. Do you still get free coffee today when interrogated?

Kupcinet was living in the Monterey Village apartment complex located in West Hollywood:

It really is a charming little time capsule of old Hollywood, and supposedly where Randolph Scott and Cary Grant once shacked up.

The steps up to Kupcinet’s second floor apartment:

Where it all happened, which (coincidentally) is just a few doors away from where I once spent the night with a good friend of mine who resided in this complex a number of years ago:

Somehow, Kupcinet is part of the many conspiracy theories linking her to President John F. Kennedy’s death. According to the Hazlitt website:

[S]he was the mystery woman who, just 20 minutes before Kennedy’s death, called the FBI from an Oxnard, California, telephone exchange and breathed, “the president will be shot.” Jones gave no reason for his unshakable belief that Kupcinet was the mystery woman. Her ex-lover, Andrew Prine, later stated he and Kupcinet were in another part of the state during the shooting. There is no concrete evidence Kupcinet was psychic or privy to such explosive information, and when the Today Show, in 1992, flashed her picture among those whose deaths “connected” to Kennedy’s, her father’s next Sun-Times column was irate: “That is an atrocious outrage… The list apparently has developed a life of its own and for Today to repeat the calumny is reprehensible.”

Kupcinet’s death still remains officially unsolved. If you want to read an excellent account of what happened, visit Scott Michaels’ Find A Death website

See more Movie & TV photos at my main website.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Let's Get Together: A Parent Trap Thanksgiving

On this holiday where we celebrate gratitude and friends/family, what better way to do this than singing the Sherman Brothers’ song, “Let’s Get Together” from the 1961 Disney classic “The Parent Trap”?!?

Let’s get together, yeah yeah yeah
Think of all that we could sha-are

Let’s get together everyday
Every way and everywhere

And though we haven’t got a lot
We could be sharin’ all we’ve got

Yeah yeah yeah is right! I hope you and yours have an incredible day and take some time to relax, rejuvenate, and reflect.

See more “Parent Trap” photos at my main website.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Dorothy & Gram: Room 47

My recent post about Gram Parsons mentioned that he had stayed in Room 47 at the Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood. The photo below that I found online was supposedly shot there, but now that I’ve stayed in 47, I can say that the window placement doesn’t really match up to anything.

Willis didn’t sense Gram in the room, either. Maybe it wasn’t even 47 where Gram and his wife lived.

The other thing I had read about Room 47 was that writer and critic Dorothy Parker had stayed there and injured herself in the bathtub, circa 1948. Here’s where it happened:

Here’s a shot of Dorothy (unknown location) from 1939:

It seems that Dorothy first stayed across the street at The Garden of Allah hotel, which is currently a mound of dirt, awaiting construction of another Frank Gehry monstrosity. In a chapter titled “The Grim Weeper” from her book The Garden of Allah, Sheila Graham wrote:

Dorothy Parker used to announce that she was half Jewish, so if anyone said anything against the Jews, only half of her would walk out. She was the most unpredictable woman I ever met in the Garden of Allah or anywhere else. I had met her in New York before I came to Hollywood.…She was staying at The Lowell Hotel, and when she could not pay her bill there, she ordered an ambulance and was carried out on a stretcher. Who would dun a dying woman?

Years later, Graham would see Dorothy at The Garden of Allah (photo above), hanging out (drinking) with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Robert Benchley.

Dorothy frequently put her head in the oven, making sure that she had called someone first. I doubt whether she even turned on the gas. She often slashed her wrists. She wore bracelets to hide the scars. Benchley once said to her, “Oh Dottie, if you keep on committing suicide you’re going to injure your health permanently!”

“Being friends with Dottie,” said George Oppenheimer [screenwriter], “was like living on a volcano. She eviscerated you when your back was turned. Nonetheless, I remained close friends with her through all the ups and downs.”

Artie Shaw met Miss Parker when he lived at the Garden and thought she was a sad, strange lady. “These people who are supposed to be enormous wits, they have constantly to live up to their reputations. I found many of Dottie’s remarks quite lame, but of course one only remembers the good ones. I think she outlived her period.”

When her husband Alan Campbell died, a friend approached Dorothy and asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?” “Yes, you can get me another husband.” Shocked, the friend exclaimed, “You can’t mean that!” Dorothy replied, “Then get me a ham sandwich and hold the mustard.”

Here’s her Chateau Marmont registration card, which I found on the Dorothy Parker website:

And now we come to the bathtub incident, as relayed in the book Life at the Marmont:

When Dorothy checked into the Marmont in 1948, she brought with her a little dog, but not her husband, Alan Campbell. They had recently separated, and Parker was attempting to carry on without him, bolstered by. heavy sessions with a bottle in her suite, 47. She was often so desperate for companionship that she would pick up the telephone and chat with the switchboard operator. It wasn’t long before Parker began inviting her newfound friend to join her for drinks after work. “I would stay about a half hour, long enough for several cocktails,” the operator recalled, “then scramble for the bus.” When the operator told her sister about her visits with the famous Dorothy Parker, the duo stretched into a threesome. The women would meet for lunch—and drinks, always”then adjourn to 47, where they experimented with various hair-styles to try to brighten Parker’s ever-gloomy mood.

One Sunday afternoon, following a get-together, the operator’s sister phone Parker in her suite to thank her for “a lovely time.” Luckily, the third member of the trio had returned to her post at the switchboard. “It was a long conversation,” she remembered, “or so it seemed. The board was very busy, and an hour had passed before I realized that the connection was still up. I don’t know what possessed me, but I opened the key to make sure they were still talking. The only voice I heard was Miss Parker’s, and she sounded so far away,…crying for help. I called Gene Gordon, the garage man, and told him to hurry up to the fourth floor and see what was wrong.” Gordon found Dorothy Parker lying semi-conscious in her bathtub; she had slipped and fallen, hitting her head. An ambulance was quickly summoned, and Parker was rushed to the hospital, where she was examined and released, wrapped in bandages that all but covered her perky new hairdo. The next day, the operator spotted Parker wandering through the lobby with her bandaged head. “I left the switchboard and tried to console her, but she brushed me aside and kept on going.” The operator was at a loss to explain Parker’s sudden coolness, but then, there were other unanswered questions. In Parker’s despondency, had her slip in the tub really been accidental? If so, why was she so angry with the person who had responded to her pleas? If not, why had she cried out? And why had she left her phone off the hook? There were insiders at the hotel who wondered if the mishap had been staged simply to gain attention and sympathy.

Any ghosts when I stayed in the room? No. The only time I feel an otherworldly presence is when I am in the hallways at night.

See more Chateau Marmont photos at my main website.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Temple Tuesday: “Heidi” Memories

Marcia Mae Jones, the actress who played Klara (above left) in Shirley’s 1937 film “Heidi,” had fond memories of working on this movie:

I was thrilled that I was going to be with Shirley Temple. I hadn’t even met her yet, but I was very excited. The movie was made during the summer and an enormous tent had been set up on the back lot and inside there was a complete street scene with the Sesseman house and so forth. They used a great big machine to create the snow, and it was very, very hot in there. It wasn’t the best conditions at that time [no air conditioning], and the artificial snow sometimes got in your eyes and your mouth.

I loved the clothes…I wore a royal-blue princess coat with an ermine collar and shoes to match with ermine on the boots—and, oh, my dear, I cried when I had to leave that [at the studio]. I had my own dressing room…but I used to love to eat in the commissary, because at that time I was madly in love with Tyrone Power, and it’s my understanding that they told him, and he would smile and wave at me and my heart would just go pitter-patter.

Allan Dwan—well, he didn’t seem to give any direction. I remember my mother talking to me when I had to get up and pretend like I was trying to walk, and I was told just to get up and do it. I was really quite frightened, because not being crippled I didn’t know how to do it, so I imagined—on my own—what it would be like—which is the key to acting. I was only thirteen when I made “Heidi,” but I had my full height then—I was extremely tall for my age—I was five feet six inches and Shirley was very tiny and very petite. She had to help me out of my wheelchair…my God, if I had really leaned on Shirley, I would have crushed her to the floor. When I saw the film years later as a mature woman, I just seemed to get bigger and bigger as I rose from the chair, and my husband, who was with me, said, ‘My God, it’s a giraffe!’

Poor Jean Hersholt was extremely uncomfortable throughout the film. As I said, the tent was stifling, and he had to wear tremendous padding to make him heavier, and a beard and longish hair to make him look older. Unfortunately, he had a lot of [action scenes] and one day he collapsed from heat exhaustion.

One Saturday, Shirley tripped over an electric wire and fell head first on the ground, which resulted in a cut over her eyebrow. Not wanting to go over budget (the film was already two days behind schedule at that point), the makeup artist covered the bruise and Shirley continued with filming. Shirley’s throat also closed up as a result of the artificial snow; in that case, the crew had to film around her.

On the flip side, Delmar Watson (below left), who played Peter the goatherd, sometimes gave less than flattering interviews about working on the film, blaming Shirley’s mother Gertrude for some of his best (in his own opinion) scenes being deleted. He also felt that Gertrude and the studio were attempting to thwart his performance in order to make Shirley shine more:

I was never given my lines to study in advance. My dad asked Allan Dwan about this, and he said they wanted Peter to be kind of dumb, but it was the only time I was in a picture of that length where they would not give me my lines until the night before I was supposed to do a scene.

Delmar’s father, Coy, would blame the studio and complain to his family about it every night:

They’re not being fair to the boy. They’re changing his dialogue right on the set. It’s almost like they’re making him stumble over his lines to make Shirley look better. ’

Marcia Mae Jones gave a very different (and more professional) viewpoint of Gertrude:

I do remember that Mrs. Temple always had on a hat, gloves and a purse…and that she was always on a stool sitting next to the camera. Mrs. Temple was always lovely to me—she would invite me in the afternoon to come into the dressing room with Shirley, where she would give each of us a piece of Hershey [chocolate] at four o’clock. It was instead of having tea…My mother was on the set at the same time as Mrs. Temple, and they seemed to get along well. But my mother never intruded on anyone—she spoke to Mrs. Temple when Mrs. Temple spoke to her—and I guess they had some conversations together. 

The Swiss Alpine scenes were shot at Lake Arrowhead, east of Hollywood in San Bernardino County, in an area that is now called Switzer Park off Highway 18 in Skyforest. The crew either stayed in Arrowhead Village’s single hotel or had rooms in private chalets. Shirley was given her own trailer home according to Delmar Watson:

[It was] parked on the side of a hill. She was there all the time with Grif [Shirley’s bodyguard and chauffeur] and, of course, her mother. Only a few studio people were allowed up there. She had a stand-in [Mary Lou Isleib, shown below] for the sound and lights. Then, when everything was set, she’d come down at the last minute, we’d do our scene together, and when it was finished, she would be escorted back up the hill and disappear into her trailer.

Once, I was playing horseshoes right after lunch with the lighting guys, and she came out of her trailer. I said, ‘Hi,’ and she greeted me and asked if she could play. Sure, we told her. She picked up a horseshoe and tossed it. I think she missed. She played with us for exactly two minutes, and then her bodyguard came down and took her away, back up the hill into the trailer. I heard him tell her she wasn’t supposed to be there. As she left, I said to her, ‘Bye. Maybe you could do it later.’ Shirley didn’t say anything, but obediently returned to the trailer.

When you have a film riding on your shoulders and a limited amount of work time due to being a minor, it’s easy to understand that Shirley wouldn’t have a lot of time to play. A stray horseshoe that might have injured the star could have shut down the entire production. Obviously, Watson was too young at the time to understand and when he later told the story, too old to remember what the circumstances were. Once again, Marcia Mae Jones’ recollections were a bit different from Watson’s:

[Shirley and I] talked and we laughed…I think most of us children were a little in awe of her because Shirley was always bubbling…I remember that at Lake Arrowhead there was a miniature golf course, and Shirley and I were playing and I think we had about seven or eight bodyguards watching us—and I know that I was uncomfortable and I just wanted them to go away and leave us alone and let us play, but it didn’t seem to bother Shirley.

Director Allan Dwan, who worked frequently with Shirley, remembered filming the “Wooden Shoes” musical number and the original Shirley Police Badge:

We had a lot of kids dressed as little Dutch girls doing a folk dance. One of the steps, a fairly intricate one, called for them to place on leg over the other. Many of them became confused and got it all wrong and would even fall down trying to do it. Shirley would bawl them out and say, ‘Look, you do it this way.’ They would argue back and forth. She was stubborn and would say, ‘No, it’s this way,’ and show them again. Well, the dancing master finally got them all together and straightened them out. Since she obviously wanted to take charge…I had a bunch of little badges made with SHIRLEY TEMPLE POLICE stamped on them. Every kid who came on the set had to wear a badge and join the force and swear allegiance to Shirley, guaranteeing to obey her. Pretty soon, we had almost everyone on the set wearing a badge, with Shirley sporting one labeled CHIEF…She was a little big shot and loved it. If I had to leave the set, I’d tell her, ‘Shirley, now you take charge of things,’ and she did. She strutted around giving orders, like ‘I want you to take that set down and put up a castle.’ The grip would pretend to carry out her instructions, satisfying her, going along with the game.

In an October 1988 interview, Leonard Maltin discussed the making of “Heidi” with Shirley. “I remember hearing you say that the thing you remembered most about Jean Hersholt from “Heidi” was…” “Glue!” Shirley quickly interjected with a laugh. “Well, he had this big beard glued on every morning and I thought it was kind of an interesting smell. I guess I was an early glue sniffer!”

See more Shirley Temple in “Heidi” photos at my main website.