Wednesday, November 9, 2005

The Norma Talmadge House

Living in LA has revived my interest in old movies. I used to spend my weekends in middle school watching whatever old movies I could off of network TV, often programming the VCR to record something like "My Man Godfrey" for 3:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. I recently finished a very readable book by Amy Dawes called "Sunset Boulevard: Cruising the Heart of Los Angeles." It was news to me that the silent movie studios set up shop, not in Hollywood, but further east in Silverlake, Echo Park and Los Feliz. Mack Sennett's Keystone Film Company was located on Glendale Boulevard in Silverlake, and some of his Keystone cop chases were filmed along that street. Today the studio building is home to Public Storage. Also in the area were the original Disney studios at Griffith Park and Hyperion (today the site of a Gelson's grocery store), as well as D.W. Griffith's studio and the huge Babylonian set built for his film "Intolerance" at Sunset and Hillhurst (today, a Vons grocery store).

Not surprisingly, silent movie stars lived large in the area, among them Norma Talmadge, the most famous of the celebrated Talmadge sisters and for which Talmadge Street in Los Feliz is named. I've never seen any of her movies, but I have driven past her house (here and above). Built in 1932, it has also been home to Jimi Hendrix and Howard Hughes. The daughter of a stage mom, she started acting in 1910 in Brooklyn and eventually became a huge silent movie star, in no small part because of her marriage to Joe Schenck (the movie exhibitor for Loew, turned first President of United Artists, turned co-founder of 20th Century with Darryl Zanuck). Apparently, she didn't fair too well with the advent of talkies-- her sister Constance reportedly saying, "Quit pressing your luck, baby. The critics can't knock those trust funds Mama set up for us." No worries though since Norma retired fabulously wealthy in 1930.


ivanomartin said...

I never realized until very recently, but the weird decor of the Hollywood/Highland mall is an homage to the Intolerance set.

Apparently, it stood for several years, and was only torn down in the Fifties or something. Typical of attitudes toward historical preservation in LA, where the legendary Brown Derby was only demolished around ten years ago.


chanchow said...


Yes, I heard that they tore down the Brown Derby (or at least the one that had all those movie star caricatures on the wall). Ciro's and the Hollywood Canteen are probably Pioneer Chicken and Pottery Barn today.

Besides the old silent movie studios around Sunset, another thing that gives me a thrill is the Chaplin studios on La Brea (ODA pointed them out to me one day). I'm sure the interior is all changed, but it would be cool if there were tours for the public.

ivanomartin said...

There's also some old bungalows back on some sidestreet west of La Brea that was somehow affiliated w/ Chaplin.