grand hotel

From December 1931:

What do you think of this for a cast? Great Garbo…John Gilbert…Joan Crawford…Clark Gable in “Grand Hotel.”

Irving Thalberg (MGM executive and husband of Norma Shearer) thinks so much of it that it is practically set that these four stars will be united in Vicki Baum’s sensational story.

Anyway, the folks have had a lot of fun casting the parts. Garbo as the dancer, Gilbert as the young crook, Crawford as the stenographer–everybody agrees on that line-up. But what part is Gable to have? the only other important role in the book is the invalid from the country. Does Gable look like an invalid to you?

____

And of course he didn’t. The invalid role went to Lionel Barrymore, the crook role to John Barrymore, and Garbo was indeed the dancer and Crawford the stenographer. Clark was not in the cast, of course. I’ve heard these rumors of his casting before and always wondered what role they were really considering him for. The only one that remotely would fit would be the crook.

 

 

 

The Church of the Recessional

Continuing on in Forest Lawn Glendale…

Before we venture over to the Great Mausoleum, we have one important pitstop: The Church of the Recessional, where both Clark Gable and Carole Lombard’s funerals were held–Clark on November 19, 1960 and Carole (with her mother) on January 21, 1942.

Church of the Recessional, Clark Gable’s funeral

Church of the Recessional front doors

Church of the Recessional courtyard

Naturally, we tried to see inside but there wasn’t much to see through the windows and all the doors were locked. Here is a photo of the inside, from Forest Lawn’s website:

And now…onto the Great Mausoleum.  A place I have thought of often and had always hoped to visit.

It is absolutely gorgeous to behold in person.The building is huge beyond belief; I couldn’t even get it all in one picture.

Bird’s eye view of the Great Mausoleum in the 1940’s

The picture above is of the Memorial Terrace Entrance, where we entered. Yes, we did see the Holly Terrace Entrance, which has become well-known the past two years because of a certain King of Pop interred behind the doors. Holly Terrace was built on later and is on the other side of the building from the Memorial Terrace.

The inside was just as I had imagined it would be: absolutely gorgeous, pristine and very peaceful. We were in the only two people in the mausoleum at the time and it just felt so peaceful, there isn’t another word for it.

A recreation of the Last Supper Window is in the main hall. The only thing that interrupted the peacefulness of the mausoleum is the booming broadcast of the unveiling of this window every thirty minutes. I didn’t get a picture of the actual window, since I was busy elsewhere in here, but here is where they unveil it.

One of the mausoleum’s newest residents, Elizabeth Taylor, is still without a marker. But here she is, entombed under this huge angel, before you reach the Last Supper Window.

Clark Gable and Elizabeth Taylor

Clark Gable and Elizabeth Taylor

Past Elizabeth’s final resting place and to the right is a beautiful hallway called the Sanctuary of Benediction.

On the right are many long plots, with  William Powell’s parents and actress Marie Dressler among the residents.

Clark Gable and Marie Dressler

Clark Gable and Marie Dressler

Across from them are very impressive rooms that house Sid Grauman (of Grauman’s Chinese Theater) and famed comedian Red Skelton.

Red Skelton

The very last room on the left hand side is for Jean Harlow, Clark’s close friend and co-star in The Secret Six, Red Dust, Hold Your Man, China Seas, Wife vs. Secretary and Saratoga, who died in 1937 at age 26.

Clark Gable and Jean Harlow

She is entombed in the middle of three plots with the simple inscription, “Our Baby.” Her mother was also placed in the room, although unmarked. The third space shall remain empty.

At the end of the hall, past a gate, is the room for Irving Thalberg, MGM’s “wonder boy” producer. Irving was the one who gave Clark a shot at the studio and guided him into some of his most well-known roles, such as Fletcher Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty. He died at age 37 in 1936.

Irving Thalberg and Clark Gable

Irving Thalberg and Clark Gable

Irving’s inscription reads “My Sweetheart Forever,” from his wife, actress Norma Shearer, who is entombed above him, marked “Norma Arrouge,” her second husband’s name.

 

Norma starred with Clark in Strange Interlude, Idiot’s Delight, and she was the one he smacked around in his star-making turn in A Free Soul.

Clark Gable and Norma Shearer

Clark Gable and Norma Shearer

Irving’s parents Henrietta and William are also in this room, along with his sister, Sylvia.

Now we leave the Sanctuary of Benediction and go back out into the main chapel and into a section called “Columbarium of Prayer.” There are two hallways in the section, the one to the left being “Sanctuary of Trust,” the final resting place for Clark Gable and Carole Lombard.

At the end of the hall on the left side, is a room for David Selznick, legendary producer of Gone with the Wind, among his other distinct projects. His actress wife Jennifer Jones and their daughter Mary Jennifer are also entombed in this room.

David Selznick, Mary Jennifer Selznick, Jennifer Jones

David Selznick, Mary Jennifer Selznick, Jennifer Jones

Forest Lawn Glendale

Forest Lawn GlendaleForest Lawn Glendale

To reach the Selznicks, you would have to walk past a simple marble bench.

It is here, on the right hand side across from the bench, that Clark Gable rests for all eternity, next to Carole Lombard.

Clark Gable and Carole Lombard

Clark Gable and Carole Lombard

Carole’s mother Elizabeth Peters, who perished with her in the plane crash, is on the other side of Carole.

Elizabeth Peters and Carole Lombard

Clark’s widow, Kathleen “Kay” Williams Gable, is one row down and to the left of him, on the very bottom row.

Clark Gable and Kay Williams

Clark Gable and Kay Williams

I wish I could put into words what it meant to me to stand in front of Clark and Carole’s bronze nameplates and to put flowers in their empty vases. But it’s just a bit hard to express, it was very emotional for me. What I can say is that when I left the mausoleum for some reason I had a renewed sense of purpose for what this site can be.

That wraps up my adventures in Hollywood. Thank you to everyone for “tagging along”!

 

 

 

 I approached this tour rather apprehensively. Metro Goldwyn Mayer is, sadly, no more. The largest studio, the most prestigious studio, the studio that had “more stars than there are in the heavens”, Clark’s home studio for over 20 years,  is gone. By the 1970’s, its glory days were nothing but a memory. The MGM name is nothing but really a name anymore, not a place. The former studio is now Sony Pictures and Sony owns Columbia and is much more proud of that than of MGM history.
Sony Pictures

I won’t get into the long, sad story of MGM’s decline here but I highly recommend this book that came out last year, MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot. I made a point of buying it and reading it before my trip and I am so glad I did. It shows you, building by building, what the lot used to look like and how lavish and extensive the studio’s 185 acre backlot was. A must read for any classic movie fan.

Knowing the history as I did, I didn’t expect much for this tour. I was warned beforehand that Sony now is most proud of its television efforts, such as Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, rather than history. If any history will be touched upon, it will be Columbia, not MGM.

This was mostly true. But MGM did sneak in here and there.

Here are the original MGM entrance gates, no longer used, but still standing as a monument to what used to be.

Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures MGM gate

Any star who appeared in any MGM film crossed this threshold, driving down this familiar path. I couldn’t help but think as I looked at it about that lonely day for Clark when he drove off the lot for the final time, after 20 years of employment, and nobody said good-bye to him. He must have had a lump in his throat as he crossed under this and onto Washington Blvd.

Another shot of the gate, and you can see a poster of It Happened One Night nearby. Funny, after over 20 years of service to MGM, none of Clark’s MGM pictures is displayed or mentioned throughout the lot—only It Happened One Night, his lone Columbia feature.

View from the gate:

Sony Pictures

One of the first things you see on the tour is the unmistakable Irving Thalberg building. Louis B. Mayer had this massive administration building built in 1938 in memory of Thalberg. It was top of the line in every way back then, with producers having their own wings and the entire building having–gasp–air conditioning! Today it looks very much the same except, I was a bit sad to note, over the door it says “Columbia Pictures.” Imagine Louis B. Mayer’s reaction to that if he knew!

Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures

Clark Gable, Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland on these very stairs, back when it said Metro Goldwyn Mayer:

Clark Gable Shirley Temple Mickey Rooney Judy Garland

Clark Gable Shirley Temple Mickey Rooney Judy Garland

We did go inside the lobby, where they house the Best Picture Oscars they have won. They were all, of course, for Columbia features. The only one of interest to me, naturally, was the one for It Happened One Night.

 Our tour guide mentioned that the Thalberg building has appeared in many TV shows and movies, standing in for schools, courthouses and various office buildings. Its beautifully manicured lawn has stood in for New York City’s Central Park numerous times.

Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures

We went inside the scoring stage, now named The Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage, which was amazing in size. We were awestruck thinking of the big names whose voices had once filled it: Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Lena Horne, Doris Day, Kathryn Grayson, Judy Garland, Nat King Cole…

Sony Pictures

Nearby is the screening room, where directors and producers would view daily rushes. In 1981 it was re-named The Cary Grant Theatre. (Cary Grant being another Columbia alum). Looking from the inside out:

Sony Pictures

One of the outside facades used for exterior shooting is known as the Frank Capra Building, Capra being a renowned Columbia director (and, of course, director of It Happened One Night.)

Frank Capra Sony Pictures

But there are some MGM names that received the honor of their name on a building as well.

Like here is The Robert Young Building, which now contains offices, used to house the studio’s camera equiptment.

Robert Young Building Sony Pictures

The Spencer Tracy building was once MGM’s on-site hospital.

Sony Pictures

The unique Joan Crawford building was once the famed MGM schoolhouse, where legends like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney were taught.

Joan Crawford building Sony Pictures

Not too far from there is the old sound department building which has been christened The Myrna Loy Building.

Myrna Loy building Sony Pictures

And just beyond that lies what was the makeup department back in the MGM days and now houses production offices. It’s name? The Clark Gable Building.

Clark Gable building Sony Pictures

Clark Gable building Sony Pictures 

Walking around the lot…

Stage 9. Interiors for Saratoga was filmed in this studio.

Sony Pictures

Stage 15 was home to interior shots of Strange Cargo. Stage 12 was used for Love on the Run.

Sony Pictures

Clark zipping around the soundstages while filming "Love on the Run" in 1935

Joan Blondell eating an ice cream cone on the side of the studio yogurt shop

Sony Pictures

One of the things I had really wanted to see was the original commissary. I don’t think I’ve read a bio on an MGM star yet who didn’t talk about the famed MGM commissary. I inquired to our tour guide when he was wrapping up the tour about the whereabouts of the commissary, which I knew was still standing. (Yes, I was that person on the tour who wanted to see an old commissary while everyone else was happily snapping photos of the set of Jeopardy.) He pointed to a very large, uninteresting concrete building. I said, “No…the original commissary.” He just said, “Oh, we passed it earlier…near the front.” I thought that was going to be all I got so I just said, “Ok. Thanks.” Well when we walked by it again on the way out he took us right in, since I asked!

Sony Pictures

It is now called the Rita Hayworth Dining Room (again, Rita was a Columbia-ite) and can be rented out for parties.

Rita Hayworth Dining Hall, former MGM commissary

At the time of our visit, it was being set up for a sweet sixteen birthday party for the low, low price of $125,000. Yikes.

Clark Gable chowing down in the commissary

Our guide stated that although the commissary remodeled and it has been downsized (the original commissary was 8,730 feet, could seat 225 and even had its own bakery in the basement), some of the original room separators and the booths still stood. And they still serve Mayer’s wife’s famous matzo ball soup. Which has gone slightly up in price from $0.10 to $13!

The commissary in the 1940's

Above the commissary used to be the famed Art Department, run by Cedric Gibbons.

I couldn’t help but be saddened by this tour, when I thought of the incredible number of Hollywood legends that had walked these grounds and the amazing films that were filmed right here, and so little of it is left.

Our tour guide pointed out that the only remnants that bear the MGM name are three original manhole covers on the streets. They had an appraiser come in and he valued them at $64,000 apiece and soon there will be little plaques over them stating this.

Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg, Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Myrna Loy, William Powell, Spencer Tracy, Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, Franchot Tone, Jean Harlow, Robert Taylor, Jimmy Stewart, Jeannette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy, Marie Dressler, Wallace Beery, Hedy Lamarr,  Greer Garson, Lana Turner, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore,  Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra…and all that’s left is manhole covers.

Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and costars stroll on the MGM lot to the set of San Francisco in 1936

Beverly Hills

Instead of hopping on a tour bus to be driven around, snapping photos and hoping to catch today’s stars in their bathrobes watering their front lawns, we were on a mission to find the homes of the past.

Let’s start with two of Clark’s wives…

Here is the house on Landale that Clark’s first wife Josephine Dillon lived in from her arrival in Hollywood until her death. Clark owned this property, paid the property taxes and let Josephine live there rent-free. He left her the house in his will.

Josephine Dillon's house

After Clark’s widow Kay Williams sold the Encino ranch to developers in 1970’s, she moved into posh Beverly Hills to this house on the affluent Roxbury Drive with her three children.

Kay Williams Gable's house

She had some nice neighbors: Roxbury Drive was once home to stars such as Jimmy Stewart, Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Elizabeth Montgomery, Rosemary Clooney, Warner Baxter and more.

Two of Clark’s leading ladies…

Jean Harlow’s house on N. Palm Drive. This was the last home of Jean, who left this rented house for the hospital in 1937 and never returned to it. Rita Hayworth owned it in the 1950’s as well. Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio later lived a few houses down.

Jean Harlow's N. Palm Dr home

in 1937

Jean Harlow Palm Dr house

Lana Turner’s house on Bedford Drive in Beverly Hills. This house is famous for being the place where Lana’s daughter Cheryl stabbed her mother’s boyfriend, mobster Johnny Stompanato, to death on April 5, 1958. Bedford Drive also had its share of famous residents, including Clara Bow, Jeanette MacDonald, Stan Laurel, Greta Garbo and Frank Sinatra.

Lana Turner's Bedford Dr house

Bela Lugosi’s house on Outpost Drive (as I mentioned before, the friend who accompanied me is a classic horror fan). When the house was built in 1935, it was known as the “All Steel” house for having a steel frame, making it “termite free.” Johnny Depp owned it at one point as well.

Bela Lugosi Outpost Dr house

Charlie Chaplin’s house on Summit Drive. This home was known as the “Breakaway House” because Chaplin commissioned studio carpenters to build it on the cheap. It looks like it has been added on to, but apparently the original structure is still the backbone of the house.

Charlie Chaplin's house on Summit Dr

On to Santa Monica…

The Santa Monica Pier

Not too far from the Santa Monica Pier is a stretch of gorgeous beach property located on what is now the Pacific Coast Highway. This once extremely private area was referred to as “Rolls Royce Row” by columnists and was not accessible to the general public. Odd to think that now, since it currently faces a busy six lane highway! Along this road lived Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in the last years of his life (with Sylvia Ashley), Marion Davies, Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg, and Cary Grant with roommate Randolph Scott.

Beach view of "Rolls Royce Row"

The most impressive on this street was this beach house William Randolph Hearst built for his mistress Marion Davies in 1929. It had 34 bedrooms, 55 bathrooms and 3 separate guest houses, as well as a tennis court and swimming pool. Clark, alone and later with Carole, was a guest on many occasions.

After Marion sold it in 1947, it operated as a small hotel called Oceanhouse. In 1956, it became the exclusive Sand and Sea Beach Club. Unfortunately the main house was badly damaged in an earthquake in the 1990’s and it soon fell into severe disrepair. The majority of the property had to be torn down, leaving only one guest house and the original pool. In 2009,the property opened to the public as the Annenberg Community Beach House.

As it looked when Marion lived there. The remaining guest house is in the top right corner.

Marion Davies Santa Monica beach house

The guest house today. Usually, it is open to the public but a wedding was being held there the day we visited so we could not go in.

Marion Davies beach house in Santa Monica

Marion Davies beach house in Santa Monica

Marion Davies beach house in Santa Monica

Marion Davies beach house in Santa Monica

Marion Davies beach house in Santa Monica

The pool today.

Marion Davies beach house pool in Santa Monica

Just down the street is Norma Shearer’s gorgeous home. Newlyweds Norma and Irving Thalberg had this home built in the late 1920’s.

Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg's house in Santa Monica

 Because Irving was not a well man and often could not sleep, Norma had the entire house soundproofed so he couldn’t hear the ocean. Irving died of pneumonia in this very house in 1936. Norma moved out in 1942 but couldn’t bring herself to sell the property until 1961. Clark often visited this home to see Irving on MGM related-matters and attend Norma’s many parties.

Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg's house in Santa Monica
What’s amazing to me is how far back the ocean is from the original picture and now. Now, there is quite a long stretch of beach between the house and the ocean. This picture from the 1930’s, you can see that the house’s backyard was the ocean!

Norma Shearer's Santa Monica house


Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg's house in Santa Monica

Norma Shearer

Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg's house in Santa Monica

gable519Norma Shearer, Irving, Ria and Clark, 1932.

MGM producer Irving Thalberg died 74 years ago today. If it wasn’t for Irving, many classic stars would have never made the marquee–Clark included. As MGM’s “boy wonder” head of production, Irving oversaw  many of Clark’s pictures, including The Secret Six, A Free Soul, Possessed, Strange Interlude,  Mutiny on the Bounty and China Seas. He was never listed as a producer in the credits of any of the pictures he produced, stating that “credit you give yourself isn’t worth having.”

Following his death, the Academy created the Irving Thalberg Memorial Award in his honor. It is presented to “creative producers whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production.” Francis Ford Coppola is set to receive the award on November 13 of this year. You can learn more about the history of the award here. I found it interesting that his widow, actress (and frequent Clark costar) Norma Shearer disliked the initial design of the award so much that she commissioned a sculptor herself to redesign it–and not only that, sent the new design to the past winners!

Here is a memorial piece that appeared in the November 1936 issue of Photoplay Magazine:

As we go to press comes the dreadful news that Irving Thalberg has died.

This one of the greatest losses, not alone to Hollywood, but to the world, that could be sustained.

He was a great artist. He was a great producer. He was a very great man. The influence of his death on Hollywood is impossible to estimate. He stood for the very best in pictures. Irving Thalberg was one of the few men in the motion picture industry who considered that nothing was too good for the public. He believed the world responded to intelligence, beauty and good taste, and his personal fortune attested to the rightness of this theory.

Everyone in the trade believed him wrong when he announced his plans for his current production, “Romeo and Juliet”. “Mutiny on the Bounty” was considred a terrific gamble, but, today, with their creator gone, those two pictures chant his praise in terms of their beauty, their truth and their art.

Thsoe two pictures are a very small measure of the scores of beautiful productions he gave the world. And the scores of pictures he produced show only one facet of the man as a great person.

To Norma Shearer, he was the sum of life. He was her husband, her love, her children’s father–and even more important, her one great friend.

People said of Norma that she had everything. She did, while she had Irving Thalberg. She proved over and over aain that he was all in all to her. Twice she interrupted her career to bear his children. A few years ago, when rest was ordered for him, Norma, without a thought, gave up her personal plans to spend months abroad with him. Never has there been any thought of her career versus Irving. To Norma her career was Irving. He lived and died pictures, and because of that, she wanted to be a success in pictures.

To his studio he was a guiding star to heights which that studio could not have attained without him. Oh, he was not without his crtics. There were those inevitably disgruntled ones who said he spent too much money, that he worked by the trial and error method.  But while they grumbled there was no way in which they could alibi away his consistent success with every medium of entertainment.

Things weren’t always easy for him, either. Political factions are bound to arise around a position as great as his. A few years ago he found himself given four stars who were considered completely passe. He was told to make a picture with those four. They were the Marx brothers and the picture Irving made was “A Night at the Opera””–one of the most hilarious films ever screened. It brought the Marxes back to fame. It left Thalberg untouched in his primary simplicity.

That, really, was his secret. He was completely sincere, utterly unaffected. His was the simple and pure wish to do anything he did the very best he could. He was the pure in heart and against such the world is powerless to harm. He understood equally well the temperament of actors, writers, and the humbler laborers around the studio. All could go to him with their troubles, and nearly all of them did. He sympathized and advised, directed and helped. Because of his generosity of spirit, Metro never had trouble with its actors. There were no contract quarrels. no “walkoffs”. He could soothe the most troubled back to peace.

He died at the moment of his greatest triumph, reading international acclaim of his production and Norma’s acting in “Romeo and Juliet”. He was thirty-seven years old.

He left behind him four unfinished productions, “The Good Earth” in the cutting room; “A Day at the Races” and “Maytime” which were shooting; and “Camille”, almost entirely finished. The variety of these productions–drama, comedy, musical and historical melodrama–reveals why replacing him in the Hollywood scheme will be almost impossible.

His passing came one September morning a half-hour before the stock exchange closed in New York City, three thousand miles away, yet in those few moments the news traveled eastward with a speed that shook the financial capitol and sent his company’s stock tumbling by half a dozen points.

He had been ill for little less than a week with a cold that developed into pneumonia. he had the mind of a genius and the heart of a saint but they availed him not in the least against lungs that were too frail.

Tragic Norma Shearer has this one comfort. Hollywood can never forget Irving Thalberg–not as long as beauty, and truth, and fidelity, and simplicity stay alive in the world.

—-

For more on Thalberg, I recommend Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince and Hollywood Dreams Made Real: Irving Thalberg and the Rise of M-G-M.

thalberg-shearerThe gallery is back up! Finally! I am still playing with the the layout, but it is at least up and functioning–with new pictures!