At risk of letting the age cat out of the bag, I’ll admit to having the chance to encounter a bit of old Hollywood history on a personal level. Schwab's Drugstore was still on the corner of Sunset and Laurel Canyon when I first arrived and had the chance to meet the movie Bowery Boys'/Dead End Kid, Huntz Hall, still alive at the lunch counter most famous for the discovery of Lana Turner – that publicist legend which brought thousands of Hollywood hopefuls to the city of movie magic. Also a curious chance to have lunch with Lash LaRue, 1950s western serial star famous for his bullwhip and the original “man in black”. This event took place at an "old folks home" next to the Hollywood Palace Theater and across from the Brown Derby. Many of Hollywood’s old landmarks are gone, but some remain, and if you don’t know any of these references I mention, you may not be interested in this story. But if you do, a visit to the Hollywood Heritage Museum might be for you.
Movies began in New York and New Jersey, but film-making on the East Coast in the early days of silents was controlled by the Edison Company. Most people know Thomas A. Edison as an inventor, but he was also a ruthless business man. If you thought the mob controlled the Jersey shore, just try to make a film there in 1910 without paying the Vig to Edison. The Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company was formed in New York to produce a film of the successful stage play “The Squaw Man” to feature is stage star, Dustin Farnum. The company consisted of Lasky, Samuel Goldfish – who later changed his name to Samuel Goldwyn – and Cecil B DeMille, who left the others in New York to distribute the film and came to the empty farm fields of the new city of Hollywood in California to shoot the film. He met local producers. J.J. Burns and Harry Revier at a downtown Los Angeles hotel. They had leased a former horse feed barn at the corner of Selma Avenue and Vine Street to shoot Keystone Cops shorts. DeMille rented the barn as headquarters to shoot the Squaw Man, the first feature film shot in Hollywood. DeMille continued to shoot movies which grew ever more epic and the Lasky Feature Company, morphed through mergers with Adolph Zukor into Paramount Pictures.
The Hollywood Heritage Museum in the restored original Lasky-DeMille Barn Studio can be found tucked into a corner of the overflow parking lot of the Hollywood Bowl on Highland Avenue, just a short walk from the Hollywood & Highland mall and Chinese Theater. Local Angelenos drive past the place on the busy thoroughfare rushing to get on the Hollywood Freeway, most without giving it half a thought. But this is truly pretty much where “Hollywood” began, though moved in 1985 from its original location near the Hollywood Palace Theater.
Featured in the museum is the restored office of the
great filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille as it might have been in 1914, as
DeMille himself described
it, with many of his personal artifacts, as if he had just walked out
for a moment to intercept Norma Desmond – okay, she’s not
real – Theda Bara. The Museum features a treasure trove of old
photographs of early Hollywood, movie stars and moguls from the silent
movie days, with movie props from famous films, like Ramon Navarro’s
helmet and sandals from the silent Ben Hur and DeMille’s own mostly
lost medieval epic The Crusades, along with historic documents, books
and other movie memorabilia. Compare the photo of the massive movie set
of recreated Babylon in D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance to the elephants
at the Hollywood and Highland (see Hollywood & Highland
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