Issue: Winter 2016

Hollywood As I Knew It

Hollywood is becoming a high-rise metropolis. Lofty sites for clubs, restaurants, shopping, apartments and hotels are being built. These buildings will become new stars, and provide new entertainment and opportunity.

To older residents like this writer, Hollywood was once famous but calm. In the Forties and Fifties there were few buildings more than two stories. Red street cars ran through town for ten cents a ride.
The broadcast industry was here. I remember radio station KFI (NBC) at Sunset and Vine. KNX (CBS) was at Sunset and Gower, News, sports, dramas became regular events on home radio.

We did Christmas shopping at the Broadway-Hollywood. And we bought first line clothing at stores along the boulevard. There were drug stores. Neighborhood markets were plentiful. The Copper Skillet at Sunset and Gower was a popular place, open ‘til midnight, a movie cowboy’s hangout. 
On Vine Street and Fountain, the Hollywood Ranch Market, which opened about 1936, attracted crowds. It was one of Hollywood’s earliest grocers. And convenient as well, because it stayed open 24 hours.
Bargains were plentiful. A dozen eggs, 64 cents; a gallon of milk, 14 cents and a loaf of bread cost 8 cents. The market was open-air and at the snack bar you could be standing next to Frank Sinatra, Red Skelton or Steve Allen. They were taking a break from working at radio stations up the street. Gas stations nearby charged 11 cents a gallon.
When I left the Army in 1945, I applied to study at one of Hollywood’s cultural landmarks, Los Angeles City College on Vermont. They had great football, basketball, and track teams.

Saturday night, not having a date, I attended the popular Hollywood dance palace, the Palladium. Every week or two I enjoyed the smooth sophisticated music of such bands of Stan Kenton, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Sammy Kaye and other groups. I recall the large crowds watching spectacular drummer Gene Krupa. And when Tex Beneke sang “I’ve Got A Gal In Kalamazoo,” everyone gathered around the bandstand.

On stage were vocalists Dina Shore, Jo Stafford, Margaret Whiting, Doris Day. These charming singers were often seen recording at Capitol Records just up the street. 
Across from the Palladium was one of Hollywood’s radiant nightspots. Showman Earl Carroll offered dancing, dining, and a show for $3.50. Over the front door were shiny letters that read: “Through these portals pass the most beautiful girls in the world.”  The girls had knockout figures and performed stage revues. During World War II the club welcomed visiting servicemen and women. In 1953, it became the Moulin Rouge which lasted into the Sixties.

Hollywood audiences were treated to outstanding theatre. In 1954 wealthy businessman Henry Huntington bought the CBS Radio Playhouse and changed it to the Huntington Hartford Theatre. When James Doolittle took it over in 1964, James Earl Jones starred in Fences; Pulitzer prize-winning playwright August Wilson brought The Piano Lesson. Close by, the Pantages presented Neil Simon’s Jake’s Women, followed by Can Canwith Chita Rivera.
I saw folk singers and musicians at the Ashgrove Club and at the Players Ring Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard, Marc Lawrence’s performance in Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge hypnotized audiences.
Movie studios were in full operation, building new stars. I saw Rita Hayworth drive her Cadillac to Columbia Studios at Sunset and Gower. TV was getting started and while on my way to work one morning I saw Hollywood’s funniest comic— Sid Caesar—crossing Gower. New films were previewed at the Chinese and Egyptian theaters and I saw the story of General George Patton at the Henry Fonda theatre at Hollywood and Gower. The line formed around the block.
While the Chinese Theater has endured as a Hollywood landmark, new attractions, clubs and hotels are being built…a new era has begun. And, as in years past, new memories will be created that will stand next to those from long ago.