Issue: Issue Summer 2009

Hollywood Art Centennial: DeLongpre & Redmond

Granville Redmond, a transplanted Pennsylvanian known as one of California’s first resident Impressionists, is famous for his landscapes full of poppies, our state flower, and purple lupines – although, interestingly, he’s said to have preferred darker, moodier subjects, often painting moonlit scenes. And Paul DeLongpre, a native of Lyon, France, who earned the title “le roi des fleurs” for his full blown renditions of botanicals, especially roses. Neither artist worked in the movies as a scenery painter or special effects artist, although many of their colleagues did to support themselves during lean times. But each, nonetheless, made a mark on Hollywood’s beginnings.

DeLongpre did it by combining tourism and land lust into a market for his detailed, known-all-over-Europe floral designs. He began his career as a watercolorist as a teenager, joining the family business of providing “anatomically correct” flower patterns for the textile mills that provided much of the employment in his home town. He died here in Hollywood in 1911. While he was famous for his flowers, he didn’t make enough from them to survive a bank failure in France, so he crossed the Pond and settled in New York in the very late 1800s. But like many working in film today, he left the frosty East when Los Angeles beckoned with year-round sunshine – and, from his perspective, a year-round supply of flowers to paint. He arrived in 1898 with his wife and three children, started showing his work and soon achieved the financial success that had eluded him in Europe.

But his impact on early Hollywood didn’t come solely from his paintings. DeLongpre’s success allowed him to move from Los Angeles to Hollywood when he received a tract at the corner of Cahuenga and Prospect, now Hollywood Boulevard, as a gift from his prime patron, Daeida Wilcox Beveridge, the Mother of Hollywood. He later traded three paintings for the parcel of land next door, and built a Moorish mansion with a three-acre, 3,000-bloom rose garden that became, notes Hollywood historian Gregory Williams, the area’s first tourist attraction. In true Southern California fashion, it also became a fulcrum in the region’s burgeoning real estate boom. “Today, our great local visual artists, such as David Hockney, do not court the public as DeLongpre did,” Williams explains. “But as DeLongpre promoted himself, real estate agents used him to encourage visitors to buy property in idyllic Hollywood after a visit to his home.”

And visit they did. “A lot of local businesses were established just to cater to the DeLongpre tourists,” Williams points out. “The house was part of a tour called ‘The Balloon Excursion Route’ that used the Pacific Electric Railway line. So many visitors came to visit that a separate spur track was added up Ivar to load and unload them.” Indeed, Williams notes, “people came to Hollywood from across the country to see the exotic gardens that residents had around their homes. They all had to stop at the DeLongpre mansion to visit the famous artist, see his gardens and view his paintings. If you returned home without visiting the painter’s gardens, you had not seen Southern California properly.” Beveridge was so taken with the artist, in fact, that she tried to change Prospect to DeLongpre instead of the more popular Hollywood Boulevard having to settle for a street a few blocks away named for him shortly after his death.

Redmond, for his part, is not known for charming the Mother of Hollywood; he made his mark instead through his ties to the man who could, really, be called the Father of Hollywood. In fact, in addition to maintaining his studio on the grounds of Charlie Chaplin’s expansive self-titled movie lot at the corner of Sunset and La Brea, Redmond acted in half a dozen or so of the master’s films, including “A Dog’s Life,” in which he played the owner of the restaurant where much of the action takes place, and the iconic “City Lights,” in which he played an artist – but not a painter; instead, he played a sculptor.

Because he was deaf and mute since a bout of scarlet fever as a small child, the silent movies were a medium seemingly made for the multitasking artist. Acting in the movies was, in fact, the reason he moved to LA in 1917, reports Jean Stern, executive director of the Irvine Art Museum, which holds one of the world’s finest collections of Redmond’s art. But his Hollywood ties also furthered his painting career. “He was fortunate that Chaplin provided a painting studio on his movie lot,” Stern explains. “By having his studio right there, he met a lot of movie people who eventually became his clients.” Redmond is also credited with helping The Little Tramp perfect his use of American Sign Language, Stern adds. Chaplin had learned the broader art of pantomime as a young man, he notes, but “the idea of communicating in sign is something that would not have happened if Redmond hadn’t been in Chaplin’s life as a good friend.”

Born in 1871 in Philadelphia as Grenville Richard Seymour Redmond, he moved to California with his family just a couple years later, settling in the Bay Area. After a stint in Paris – where his lush landscapes really began to tickle the fancy of art lovers – he returned to the Golden State, moving eventually to Los Angeles, and changed his name to Grandville S. Redmond, and then to the even simpler Granville. That’s also the period when he married and started a family, eventually raising three children. He died in Hollywood in 1935. There’s no street bearing his name, and no sidewalk star heralding his accomplishments in film. But you don’t have to have a star to be a star in Hollywood, and there are tributes more enduring than concrete handprints. Indeed, Redmond will always be a part of Hollywood history because his fame lies not only in the hearts of the fans of Chaplin’s films but in the collectors and art lovers who treasure the painter’s timeless renditions of California's natural beauty.

Special thanks to Jean Stern, Director of the Irvine Art Museum, for his invaluable assistance with this article.