Hollywood was a glamorous town filled with “Hollywood Royalty” plus all the bells and whistles that came along with it. This was a town built for the movies and along the way the movies created their own stars and distinct style, and somewhere in there the underworld crept in with the likes of Al Capone, Mickey Cohen, Bugsy Siegel, Lucky Luciano, and Johnny Stompanato. Even with the criminal element it still seemed to make it all that more glamorous. You could even gamble on Anthony Cornero’s “S.S. REX,” billed as the world’s largest, most luxurious casino, floating just off the Santa Monica shore in international waters.
We had night clubs and hot spots where we danced and mingled with the movie stars and sophisticates of the day. Ladies wore evening gowns and men wore suits and ties with great looking fedora hats. Elegance was overflowing in clubs such as Ciro’s, the Trocadero, Slapsy Maxies, the Mocambo, and Thelma Todd’s Roadside Inn. Even the local joints for the hardworking regular guys had class. We all had fun and some of us paid dearly for it with our lives. We were a kingdom and there are still the remnants of the great palaces along West Adams Boulevard, the Hollywood Hills, and Beverly Hills to remind us of our “Golden Age of Hollywood.”
I remember being at Paramount Studios to interview Bing Crosby and he saw a group of soldiers on the lot and went over to be friendly and commend them on their patriotic duty. He bought them coffee and lunch and felt good inside making them all feel at home with a welcome back from a job well done. Suddenly a shout was heard, “Okay guys, back to work!” It turned out they were extras working on a film, and for a change, the laugh was on him.
The Robe was number one on the best seller list and later made into a grand Cinemascope picture in 1953 with an all-star cast that included Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, Michael Rennie, Jay Robinson, and Dean Jagger. Our dear, departed, close friend Stephen Papich was the dance director and even appeared in the movie in a two-shot with Richard Burton when they were short an extra. In those days, it didn’t matter how your contract was written other than to do whatever you were told.
Cole Porter was busy writing musicals left and right, while Cary Grant was busy filming the movie Night and Day, the Cole Porter story. The Pirate starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly was one of my favorites, directed by Liza’s father, the great Vincente Minnelli. Also Cole’s incredible Taming of the Shrew, which he dubbed Kiss Me, Kate, starring the stunningly gorgeous Patricia Morison and Alfred Drake, was a masterpiece. Anything Goes just keeps on going as we saw it on the stage again a few weeks ago at the Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center. It definitely leaves you tapping your way up the staircase and out of the theatre.
I once had a tête-à-tête with Buffy Chandler, who was the heart and mind behind developing the Music Center. Our conversation was wondering why more people didn’t go to musicals and instead chose dark dramas that found you reaching for aspirin or the leftover whiskey sour still sitting by the bedside. Needless to say, the great musicals have lived on and bring fresh breath and excitement to our theatrical going experience.
I am also reminded that Stephen Papich who went on from Twentieth Century Fox Studios to become a director/producer at the Hollywood Bowl, along the way garnering the largest audience attendance ever with his presentation starring Marie Costa, which can never be broken simply because with so may seats removed to accommodate more box seats, the Bowl cannot hold as many people as it did back then. He told me when the Music Center opened they took all the top people from the Hollywood Bowl and set them all in place to operate the new Music Center, and what a grand job they all did. I met Marlene Dietrich on the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage during her rehearsal with my co-writer and dear friend, Robert Wood while we were in the company of Stephen. She stopped everything and came over to the wings and said, “Hello, I’m Marlene.” It was so sweet and endearing and I must tell you she was extraordinarily beautiful! Here’s the real scoop she told me, “I never wear a slip dear and neither should you, you’ll look twice as sexy without one.”
That reminds me of the great salon and fashion shows at the grand Bullocks Wilshire and their wonderful Tea Room. Marlene Dietrich set the world on fire with her men’s suits styled and tailored at the famous department store. At the Orry Kelly Fashion Show, a beaded dinner gown for Alexis Smith, at the time married to Gary Cooper went for a whopping six grand, and at one of Irene’s Fashion Shows her suit with a bugle beaded vest went to Joan Crawford for $4,500.
Now that’s a slice of the Hollywood I remember!