Issue: Issue Winter 2000/2001

She's Ready for Her Close-Up


Of all the great ladies of Hollywood, her story is undoubtedly the grandest of all. Throughout her illustrious history, she never once failed to titillate, to awe and inspire. She aged, more gracefully than most, and it never was her reputation that was sullied, more it was her surroundings. She has withstood the test of time and returns again in a blaze of glory. Although there have been wanabees, other contenders for the fame and glory she possessed. At the end of the 20th Century, she remains totally without peer in a class by herself.

Not born of humble beginnings, she came to life on June 4, 1930, conceived by the great impresario, Alexander Pantages. It was with great fanfare that her 70 year Hollywood career was launched. That night MGM’s The Floradora Girl, starring Marion Davies, an edition of Metronome News, a Walt Disney cartoon, a full orchestra and finally, a Fanchon and Martin stage piece, The Rose Garden Idea, capped the evening. What would become her extensive and glamorous life was encapsulated in that evening’s program.

Alexander Pantages, a Greek immigrant, began his career producing snows for Yukon miners during the Klondike Gold Rush. He created and managed the largest individually owned Vaudeville circuit in the Western United States and built this final last theatre to bear his name, as a monument to his position in Hollywood’s entertainment industry. No expense was spared in its construction—nearly $1.5 million. As one of the first movie houses built after the advent of talking pictures, the Pantages Theatre boasted the most elaborate sound equipment in the world.

The mixed bill of movies and staged pieces continued for two years to be replaced occasionally by locally produced extravaganzas. The lady was known for her versatility. In 1940, Leopold Stowkowsky conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic for an entire season at the Pantages, featuring soloists Serge Rachmaninoff and Fritz Kreisler. She received her glittery crown as the queen of Hollywood when the Academy Awards graced her stage from 1949-1959.

In 1967, movie palaces had seen their day, but new life was breathed into this aging lady in 1977 with an alliance with the legendary Nederlanders, who lent their monumental theatrical expertise who reopened the Pantages to the delight of legitimate Los Angeles’ theatre patrons. Although somewhat tarnished around the edges, she has remained the dowager queen of Hollywood.

And still the best was yet to come. A Lion King for the Queen of Hollywood.

Who would have predicted that yet another alliance between Disney, the maker of the cartoon shown on opening night so long ago, and the Nederlanders would return this lady to the top, not sedately, as befitting her social status, but triumphant and in a blaze of glory.

She’s back, better than ever, and after a ten million dollar facelift, definitely ready for her close-up.