A Unique Look at Old Hollywood - the REAL Old Hollywood
I have a poster of the 1931 film "Dirigible" above, but that's only a part of what is interesting about the below raw film footage from a long-ago day in Hollywood, California. I like film that seems to come from a time that it shouldn't, such as the 1939 color film of New York City that shows an uncannily modern city.
This film is "amateur" only in the sense that most of it was filmed by an individual for his own enjoyment. Everything else about the footage is extremely professional, suggesting a Hollywood big shot of some sort had it filmed with cutting-edge equipment.
But we aren't given any information on the source of the film. Perhaps, for some reason during the height of the Great Depression in 1931, somebody - most likely a technician or publicist (probably a team of both, in fact) at Columbia Pictures - decided to give one of the extremely rare color film cameras a workout one day. Perhaps he had never or rarely used one and needed the practice. He/they went around town, filming ordinary street scenes and some of the mansions on Rodeo Drive and various tourist attractions. They finally zeroed in on the real target: the big premiere at Graumann's Chinese Theater that night, April 4, 1931. The camera crew actually drives right past Graumann's earlier in the film, in daylight, but you have to look hard to notice. The area is suprisingly dingy.
It's almost like a tourist film, though no tourist in those days would have had a color camera. The camera movements are not jerky, but smooth and mechanically controlled. Notice the careful pan skyward at the new Rudolph Valentino statue. This is not some random guy with a hand-held job.
Time is spent at Valentino's grave - he had just died a few years earlier, the monument must have been brand new - and some big shot is seen playing with his dog at a hotel entrance while others look on. The dog is barking at an organ grinder's monkey, who is scampering about in the street. More time is spent looking over the brand new Hollywood Bowl, built in 1929, and then switching to the other side of it to look at the crowd assembling for the day's performance. The camera crew either was bored, or they were just practicing filming in different lighting conditions. Some of the shots are a bit over-saturated, perhaps they were working on getting the settings right.
In the street scenes, the cars whizz by dangerously, but something is missing: they have no turn signals. Blinkers were not invented until 1938, and not put in their present form until 1940 (and they haven't changed since).
The mansions are interesting. While at first they look very similar to today's houses, they seem to have fewer windows. That must have been the style in those days. Also, for such lavish houses, they don't seem particularly protected from the public, with simple driveways through un-enclosed arches. Also, nobody seems particularly hard-up, everything looks perfectly normal - in the middle of the Great Depression. Hollywood was a Depression-proof town.
Then it is on to the big premiere. The film is "Dirigible," a Frank Capra drama about exploring the Antarctic in, you guessed it, a dirigible. The film starred Fay Wray, Jack Holt and Ralph Graves and cost more than any picture Columbia had made to date.
We get to see the stars make their entrances outside the theater, just as they do today. Wray poses coyly for the cameras as the men rush through the photo op in perfunctory fashion.
The woman in white, relatively plain clothes (wait and compare the women who follow!) who arrives first is Bessie Love. Love began her film career in 1915 and continued, fairly steadily, into the 1980s. One could legitimately say that she was at the peak of her fame in 1931, and that it was all downhill from there.
Frank Fay, a comic actor enjoying a brief period of fame, arrives (that is only shown in the second video below). Unmentioned is his wife holding onto him - Barbara Stanwyck, who was just starting to get leading roles in minor films. They divorced a few years later, her career on the rise, his failing. He died, forgotten, in 1961, at a time when Stanwyck was still on top and about to become a major television star. (You'll have to watch the second video below for Fay and Stanwyck.) "A Star is Born," anyone?
Silent film star Sally O'Neil, recognizable by her distinctive nose, arrives. She is accompanied by her husband and another couple, all decked out to the nines. Check out the white minks the women are wearing, and the imperious look that O'Neil gives toward the hoi polloi fighting each other for position behind the gallery ropes! O'Neil is completely forgotten today, her career already on the ropes at the time of this film because her New Jersey accent did not project well in the new talkies. She was the epitome of the 1920s actress who couldn't transition to talkies, perhaps the model for the similar character in "Singing in the Rain." No starlet would be caught dead wearing a mink stole these days.
Edward G. Robinson arrives with his first wife, Gladys, whom he divorced 25 years later. She looks nice, but is rather plain.
Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal Pictures, arrives with a big smile and a nod, checking out the competition. Thomas Edison, his fierce business rival, would pass away later that year.
Gloria Swanson is the lady in red, preening for the cameras. "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Demille!" She projects more star power than anyone else. "Thank you, Miss Swanson." She utters a few words after leaving view about how fascinating the premiere is - it must have been quite a big deal to impress even a big star like her. It was Columbia's first million-dollar picture, and they pulled out all the stops to promote it.
Tickets were $5 apiece, a king's ransom during the Depression for people who might not make $5 in a week. The film apparently was a success.
While "Dirigible" is completely forgotten, it had a lot of eerie elements that foreshadowed tragic future events: it was shot in the same hanger at Lakehurst, New Jersey which the Hindenburg was headed for half a dozen years later, and the aircraft carrier Lexington, which sank in World War II, is seen. The airship "Los Angeles," somewhat ironically given the way it is used in the film, was one of the few United States airships that didn't crash, instead being decommissioned in 1932 and broken up in 1939, after rigid airships went out of style.
Just observing how they promoted big films in those days - with the title spelled out in giant lit-up letters against the surrounding darkness, klieg lights flashing - is a thrill for film buffs.
However, it isn't the fact of the premiere that is the most interesting thing about this clip, but just the oddness of seeing Hollywood itself in color early in a decade that we all think of in blacks and grays. Everything seems normal, with children casually skipping rope outside and adults playing with their dogs, ordinary houses that probably look exactly the same today - until we see the street scenes, filled with classic cars roaming the streets. Turns out people driving back then were in a hurry just like today, with the cars whizzing past. It is a fascinating glimpse at a long-lost time and place.
The parts of the film which show the premiere itself also are seen in this narrated version, followed by some lengthy extraneous and obscure clips of Gloria Swanson.
Karma is, when that guy driving behind you is obnoxious and honking his horn for you to speed up, then finally passes you at 90 miles an hour and screams out of sight - then later, you round a bend, and he's at the side of the road getting a ticket. That's Karma.
We all knew a kid in school who mysteriously missed a few days, then returned bragging about how he had been able to stay in the hospital all day and watch tv while we were completing our studies. "Oh, I just had my appendix out," he would say, waving his hand as if to say, "No big deal."
Well, it is a big deal, with a burst appendix high on the list of things that could cause you serious problems. A lot of people used to have them taken out routinely, the thinking being, "better safe than sorry." Nowadays, it is more fashionable to just leave it in unless it actually causes you problems, the thinking having reversed to the point where folks feel that, simply because we don't really know what it's for, it might be important enough to keep.
Fortunately, scientists at long last think they finally have figured out nature's true rationale behind the tiny "vestigial" appendix.
Researchers at the Duke University Medical Center now say that the appendix serves acts as a safe house for good bacteria, which can be used to effectively reboot the gut following a bout of dysentery or cholera. Those diseases could purge your gut, and if you don't have any backups for those little guys, you'd die of starvation.
That actually used to be the case. Over time, though, our systems became a little less specialized. Now, the same bacteria lives throughout our digestive tracts, not just in the gut. Thus, there is no longer any need for a "backup." The good guys can just swim upstream and get back in there. Or, at least, that is what researchers currently think.
So, that smarmy little friend of yours who ate all that ice cream in the hospital bed while you were listening to your teacher drone on and on and on about the Civil War can rest easy. He really didn't need that nasty little appendix - they think.
Some nice views of New York City. They are photographs that have that misty quality which makes you think of paintings....
NYC used to be a heck of a lot smokier than this
View from the Empire State Building, my apartment is almost dead center of this shot
Looking South, New Jersey on the right
The Chrysler Building may not be the tallest, but it is the most photogenic
NYC seen from Roosevelt Island, Chrysler Building
NYC looking from the southeast, not the usual direction. Brooklyn/Queens is dead center. You can just see my hometown, Manhasset, lower right.
Terrific shot of Union Square ca. 1910. Unbelievably, it still looks just like this, with only a few subtractions of horrible glass nothing buildings on the left/west side of the park.
This shot also was taken in 1910, and is on the other side of Union Square Park. While the layout remains the same, the buildings are completely different now.Note all the film-related signs, this was the year when 'Hollywood' left 14th Street and headed to California.
The Park Slope air disaster. On Dec 16, 1960 two airliners collided over NYC. This child was the only survivor. He died the next day.
New York man reads a newspaper, the headline reads "[German] Army Now 75 Miles From Paris." May 18, 1940
Painters suspended on the Brooklyn Bridge 1914. Imagine the safety rules now!
New Years Eve 1935, at the Cotton Club in Harlem. Music by Cab Calloway, right.
If you knew this was not Grand Central Station, but Grand Central Terminal, you're a real New Yorker
In 1974, William Conrad was enjoying renewed fame as the title character of "Cannon." Cannon originally rose to fame in radio due to his truly impressive voice, which he uses to great advantage in this parody version of "Twelve Days of Christmas." If you are in the proper anti-Holiday mood, this is a riot, especially if you are only familiar with Conrad from his G-rated television shows.
Anyway, it's worth a listen at any time of year just for the chuckles. You can't go wrong with narration by William Conrad, especially when it is such a delightful surprise like this one.
William Conrad ca. 1974.
There is some raw language involved, so adults only!
Here, for no particular reason at all, I present the Merle Haggard/William Conrad theme from the "Chisum," the 1970 John Wayne motion picture. I just love this theme, with the melodramatic line reading by former radio guy Cannon (and who was on the cusp of TV stardom) and the funky painting brought to life. I love listening to the hard-bitten reading by Cannon, who certainly knew just the right amount of fervor to put into his rendition without crossing the line into self-parody.
I know, I know, you've been there and done that. Anyway, I snapped off some time-esposure shots of fireworks on July 4, 2013. If it matters, the location was Ottumwa, Iowa, but it might as well have been just about anywhere.